Welsh Cawl – Winter Comfort Food

I know I keep bragging about the wonderful weather here in the tropics. While some of you are withstanding freezing temperatures, here at home in Puerto Rico we are at a lovely sunny 81° F winter. I live on the coast though, but on the central mountains of the islands were I grew up it is somewhere around the 65° F. For us that’s super cold and reason enough to crave hot soups, stews and wintery goodies. Today’s Welsh Cawl gives us exactly that, a perfect winter meal that is both tasty and nutritious. So for those friends living on places where winter is really winter, this rustic soup from Wales will surely deliver a much needed cheery warmth.   

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Welsh Cawl is a delicious vegetable soup enriched by a tasty lamb broth and meat. Again, a food conceived in the hearths of big families with small budgets. Usually made with the less popular cuts of lamb, like the bony neck. But, in this case a little meat goes a long way. When I was making the welsh cawl I was a bit afraid it might not taste good. First you have to boil the lamb for an hour in order to make the broth for the soup. The gamy smell took me off, it was intense! I thought the dish was going to end up being this heavy strong flavoured soup. I was ready to accept that this was going to be “one of those dishes” were only the people from that particular country can appreciate.

Yet again, I was wrong… and my father too. He called recently and asked me what country was I cooking that week. I said Great Britain and told him the whole menu. When I mentioned a lamb based soup he was baffled. He said: “Why would you destroy such a nice piece of meat by making soup with it? Grill it, roast it, but soup?” I gotta say, with respect of my Welsh friends, that I was thinking the same thing. I also gotta say: thank you Wales for proving us wrong!

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Of course letting the broth cool and skimming the smelly lamb’s fat off helped big time. In the end soup came out to be a super enjoyable thing.  Actually I must say it’s pretty light. As I mentioned it is actually a vegetable soup, the lambs meat is there at the same proportion of the other vegetables so is really balanced. The rutabaga is very present imparting a tasty sweet flavor that perfectly complements the gaminess of the lamb. All in all, it was wonderful.

Welsh Cawl is a perfect meal to use all of those winter vegetables. Cenhinen (leek), moron (carrot), taten (potato), rwden (rutabaga), cabetsen (cabbage) and wnionyn (onion) all come together to honor a very ancient food tradition. To eat this feels like being propelled back in time when the Celtic people ruled the land. Besides the potatoes, a product from the Americas, everything else feels and smells like old British country. You know you are eating something that a family a couple of thousands years ago might have been eating.

In Wales, they even have these beautiful hand carved spoons used for this traditional soup. They are absolutely gorgeous and finely decorated. Of course it’s meant for eating Welsh Cawl. But you don’t need one of those to enjoy this delicious soup. I didn’t! (Of course, I’m open to receiving one as a gift. ) A piece of bread, full blast my AC to feel the chill of winter in the tropics, a bowl of  Welsh Cawl and we are off to Celtic Wonderland! 

Welsh Cawl
Serves 8
A typical winter food of Wales. Welsh Cawl is rich, tasty, and fulfilling. Delicious lamb broth with winter root veggies make this a wonderful comfort food.
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Total Time
2 hr 15 min
Total Time
2 hr 15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 tbsp olive oil
  2. 2 lb lamb shanks
  3. 2 liters of water
  4. 2 tbsp butter
  5. 1 large onion (roughly chopped)
  6. 1 swede (rutabaga)
  7. 3 carrots (roughly chopped)
  8. 2 leeks (roughly chopped)
  9. 1 lb potatoes
  10. 2 oz barley
  11. 8 sprigs of thyme
  12. 2 bay leaves
  13. 8 oz green cabbage (roughly chopped)
  14. Salt & Pepper
  15. 2 tbsp parsley for garnish
Instructions
  1. Season meat generously with Salt & Pepper. In a Dutch Oven set over medium high heat, brown all sides of the lamb shanks with the olive oil. Once they are well browned, add the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to low heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Transfer the shanks to a cutting board and the broth to a bowl and let cool. Remove meat from bones, discard bones and cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Skim the fat off the cooled broth.
  2. Using the same Dutch Oven, melt the butter over medium low heat. Sautée the onion, carrots and leeks until soft and bright in color. (About 8 minutes) Add the potatoes, swede, barley, lamb meat, thyme and bay leaves to the pan. Pour the broth over the veggies. Bring to a boil, reduce to low heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
  3. Check the soup for salt and pepper, add more water if necessary. Incorporate the cabbage and cook covered for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, serve and garnish with parsley.
Notes
  1. This is a perfect make-ahead food. It is good as it is, but if you keep it on the fridge for a day or two, it will become a really wonderful soup.
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