Our New Year's Day used to be spent hosting tamale parties. While the rest of the country munched on the requisite black-eyed peas, I was slaving over a few hot cauldrons of tamales. Every year for the last 5 or 6 years we've had all of our friends over for New Year's Day hair of the dog, and, oh yeah, all the tamales you can eat.
The days always started the same. I'd open my eyes and say "NoNoNoNo. How could we be so stupid to invite everyone over??!!? Again?" Then I'd drag myself out of bed, head into the kitchen, drink a glass of water, grab a box of saltines and my excedrin migraine and head back to bed. Once I felt well enough to get out of bed again, Mark and I would make pancakes and spend the morning alternately dozing off and bemoaning our terrible foresight. And hindsight. It's not like it was the first time we'd found ourselves in this predicament.
You might ask, what kind of masochistic, self-hating lunatic would have a party the day after the biggest party of the year? And to that I would reply, What kind of masochistic, self-hating lunatic would attend said party? But attend they did, and on some years in droves. Like lemmings to a cliff, my friends headed to my house to drink away the night before, stuffing themselves silly on tamales.
While getting out of bed was painful, prepping the food was worse. I would have to take breaks between chopping the vegetables and making the guacamole to lean on the counter, head in my hands. After making the masa I'd sit on the floor in heap, rag-dollish and sloppy, leaning against the counters until I was able to stand again. It wasn't until I made the sangria that I felt better, as I took the occasional swig from the bottle. And like magic I was myself again.
Everyone brought fillings, ranging from the tame (cheese) to the tacky (cheetos). While liquor was a major player, spicy foods played an even bigger role. If you couldn't drink away the pain from the night before, then you could try and sweat it out. And holy crap did we try. One year a friend brought chili that was so hot no one would touch it but the guy who made it. One bite and he was red and sweating. It haunts me still today.
The tamales were assembled ala Adam Smith, each person assigned a job, passing the tamales from person to person. In the end no one knew what magical filling, spicy or savory or sweet or salty or combination of the four, would await them as they bit into them. We'd eat as many tamales as we could bear, not wanting to miss out on a single combination. It was sloppy gluttony. The next morning was often just as painful as the previous one.
It's a sad fact that tamale party was laid to rest last year. We decided, for once, to see what New Year's Day was like without an all out re-hashing of the night before. While I can't claim it was memorable, I can vouch for it not being an uphill battle. I was perfectly content to lie in bed for the greater part of the day, an activity which doesn't even require hair of the dog. What luck! However, that doesn't mean we've given up all semblance of tradition here in our household. One thing I cling dearly to as New Year's recovery food is spice. Nothing is better after a night of heavy drinking than fiery food to reawaken your senses and drive away the hangover.
I hadn't put much thought into our New Year's Day meal until this past week when I stumbled upon this soup. It's a soup to slap you back into shape and snuff out any hangover. And really anything else for that matter. It's a vegetable soup spiced with a cilantro, lime and jalapeno pesto that can both jolt you full of vitamin C and knock you flat with heat if you're not careful. It was so delicious I ate two huge bowls of it and still probably could have had more. It's no tamale, but honestly, the tamales always were an experiment gone totally awry. They were merely a product of cloudy thinking and insatiable hunger. But this soup? This soup is seriously satisfying.
Caldo de Vegetal
Adapted from The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups by David Ansel
For the soup
6 cups vegetable broth (I use the saltiest kinds I can find. That's right people, I LOVE SALT.)
1 onion, cut into thin half moons
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 stalks of celery, with leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 potato, cut into thing half moons
3 oz tomato paste
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Cilantro Pesto
1 bunch of cilantro
Juice of one lime
Handful of toasted pecans (optional)
Splash of olive oil
Salt to taste
Heat broth to a simmer and add onions, carrots, celery, cabbage, potato, tomato paste, cumin and a splash of olive oil. Once carrots and potatoes are soft add the rice and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer about 20 mins more, until rice is cooked.
Meanwhile, make the pesto. I use a food processor. Toss all ingredients into the food processor. If you're sensitive to heat you should add the jalapeno gradually, until you reach the desired amount. Add salt to taste.
Serve soup with a large dollop of pesto. It should be exploding with lime-y spiciness.