Hawaiian Oxtail Soup with Dried Orange Peel

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I believe every moment in life deserves its own soundtrack. Experimenting in the herby kitchen is rarely a quiet endeavor – and I am not speaking of the avalanche of sound that occurred earlier today when my packages of precariously perched herbs all toppled from its shelf onto the floor. Note to self (must organize…soon). No! I am speaking of cooking music. Last week’s mountain yam pancakes got serenaded by this guy. Today, I let the musical gurus of Songza take charge of my cooking soundtrack. I always get a little kick out of the curated playlist names they have for practically any activity of the day. “Kitchen Karaoke”, “Fireside Folk”, “Snuggling with Your Sweetie”. That’s when it occurred to me that today’s featured herb, the humble orange peel, is the very essence of “Sunshine Indie Pop“.

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I don’t think it takes a whole lot of explanation to understand the comparison. Dried tangerine orange peel, or as it’s known in Traditional Chinese Medicine, chen pi, is an herb with a perky nature that’s palatable in many circles, but still under the radar as far as its health power goes. We spend a lot of time enjoying the juicy orbs of the fruit itself, but the orange peel is something to be reckoned with on its own. For one, orange peel is a rich source of vitamin C and contains properties that soothe and support the body’s digestive functions.

Energetically speaking, orange peel is an aromatic agent, which means that it’s a mover and a shaker. Just think of biting into an orange or sipping orange juice. Even that is an instant invigorator. In an even more dramatic way, orange peel has the properties to move and regulate the qi energy of the body. What does that mean? Orange peel can get things moving in your body and it does this partially by helping dissolve mucous and permeating congestion.

In TCM, the gradual build-up of mucous and phlegm in our bodies are often the usual suspects behind many of our ailments. Feeling nauseous, bloated or foggy headed? A cup of orange peel tea would do you a world of good. Yet, sometimes phlegm-build up is not so obvious. Being super tired or not having much of an appetite could be a symptom of being phlegmy (if that’s you, much applause on being on this food blog).

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In the Chinese material medica, there are a host of medicinal formulas that include orange peel as a key player. But in my family, food is the go-to cure first. The husband tells the story that when he was a kid and feeling queasy in the stomach, his dad would hand him a bowl of food and say, “Eat! You’ll feel better”. And you know what? His dad was right, as long as you ate the right thing. I experimented with that idea today with this belly-nourishing oxtail broth enhanced with just a bit of dried, aged orange peel. It’s an Okinawan recipe heralding from Hawaii and the traditional recipe often includes other Chinese herbs, like red dates. For mine, I kept things simple with just an addition of dried shiitake mushrooms for added umami roundness, and lots of fresh spring onions and ginger as a garnish.

Just like the cheerful songs of “Sunshine Indie Pop” wiping away the malaise of a gloomy day, this soup is uplifting, but in a stabilizing kind of way. Oxtail, with its bone in, is an especially supportive and nourishing cut of meat because it’s literally the tail end of the ox and strengthens the kidneys, which is an organ that energetically supports your bones. Oxtail is not always easy to find, but search around. Costco supplies oxtail, although it’s always better to find organic or grass-fed, if you can.

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After parboiling the oxtail for 30 minutes to rid it of blood and other foamy excesses, add in the orange peel, star anise and ginger slices. I used medicinal orange peel which is aged and dried. It should have a strong citrus aroma and a dark skin. Homemade dried orange peel can be used too, although the qi-moving properties will be considerably weaker. I’ll be writing about how to make homemade dried orange peel later this week.

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Fresh Shanghainese bok choy makes an appearance here and adds a cool, pungent and slightly sweet energy to this warming soup. Any kind of bok choy or mustard green will do, but I welcomed these green-ombre’d beauties for their delicate flavor and light crunch.

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Refrigerating the soup overnight does wonders to meld the flavors together and to get the most out of the oxtail bone. What you get is a bone broth soup with a bang – and a happy belly at the end of the day. Add the fresh greens at the very end. Oh! And there’s peanuts – it’s part of the traditional Hawaiian recipe. We didn’t have any on hand, so I substituted cashews and was happy with the creamy way it dissolved on the tongue.

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This soup gets simmered until the meat practically falls off the bone. The orange peel is hidden away, but it’s there and you’ll notice its presence in the meat and broth. Drink it up on a day you’re not feeling so great and you’ll thank yourself. Or drink it any day for an instant pick-me-up.

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Hawaiian Oxtail Soup with Dried Orange Peel

Makes 4-6 servings
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs oxtails
  • 1 piece dried orange peel, or a sliver of fresh orange zest minus the white pith
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, optional
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup of raw peanuts, shelled and skinned (or cashews)
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • A handful of bok choy, coarsely chopped (about 2 loosely packed cups)
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped (or not, for you non-cilantro lovers)
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Fresh ginger, grated
  1. Fill a 5-quart soup pot halfway with water and set on high to boil. Place the oxtail in and boil for half an hour, allowing the blood and foamy excess to float to the surface. Drain the pot and rinse the oxtails off. Trim them of any excess fat.
  2. Toss the oxtails back into the pot and fill with water until it reaches an inch above the oxtails. Add in the orange peel, star anise, ginger, mushrooms and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for an hour. Add the peanuts (or cashews), then simmer for another 2-3 hours until the oxtails are so tender it starts to fall off the bone.
  3. At this point, you have the choice of skimming the fat off the surface and finishing the soup, or letting the soup cool to refrigerate overnight. Allowing it to sit overnight gives the flavors a chance to meld and deepen. The fat will also solidify so it will be easier to pull off from the surface the next day.
  4. Bring the soup to a simmer. Add the chili flakes and bok choy. Cook for another 5 minutes until the greens are tender.
  5. To serve, place 3-4 oxtails in each bowl, with enough soup to cover. Garnish with cilantro, green onions and more fresh ginger on top.
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