Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sopa de Albondigas: Mexican Meatball Soup

Soup (sopa) in Mexico comes in two forms: Sopa, a regular soup with a few ingredients and lots of rich broth, and Sopa Seca, or "dry soup", which is not dry at all but has such a richness of ingredients that it's more like a stew than a soup. Albondigas show up in both styles, depending on the cook. What starts out as a plain soup can easily take on a life of its own with the addition of seasonal vegetables, until its heartiness sometimes approaches the consistency of a casserole.

Generally speaking, my favorite is the Sopa variety and I keep the ingredients to a minimum. The meatballs and a few vegetables swim in a sea of rich broth, the flavor of the albondigas unadulterated by competing flavors.

There are as many recipes for Sopa de Albondigas as there are kitchens in Mexico, so it's hard to declare that any one recipe is not "authentic". The use of mint in the meatballs is traditional in many parts of Mexico, and I surprised myself by liking that (it adds a subtle flavor), so I kept it in my own recipe. Where I went all rogue on the traditions, though, was in two ways: First, I don't care for the use of rice in meatballs to act as a binder, or rice added to soup broth (I don't like the texture), so I eliminated it altogether. Second, instead of gently placing the uncooked meatballs directly into the broth to cook, I like to brown them first with the onion and garlic; I like the color and flavor the browned meatballs lend to the finished product.

There is a plethora of wonderful sopa de albondigas recipes available on the Internet that will give you a more traditional soup. But this one is mine, and I haven't gotten any complaints about it from my Mexican friends. Without further ado...

SOPA DE ALBONDIGAS: MEXICAN MEATBALL SOUP
Serves about 6

Ingredients:

Meatballs:
  • 1 pound fresh ground beef
  • 1 pound fresh ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup uncooked rice (I leave this out, but you may add it if you like)
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped mint (yerba buena)
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp powdered cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (for browning the meatballs)

Broth:
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 small white onion, finely diced
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 8 Cups beef broth or stock (I like to use half beef and half chicken broth-- about 3 tsp. bouillon of each flavor dissolved in hot water, if I don't have broth on hand)

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs together in a large bowl until smooth. Form into 1-inch balls and set aside. You will have approximately 2 dozen meatballs.

In a large heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add the meatballs and brown evenly on all sides, keeping them moving to maintain roundness. When browned to your satisfaction, remove from skillet and set aside.

In same skillet, add onion and diced garlic. Saute until translucent but not brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Make sure the garlic doesn't burn, or it will be bitter. Remove skillet from heat and immediately pour 1 cup of broth into it (watch out for steam and/or spattering). De-glaze the skillet, making sure to scrape up all the goodness left from the ingredients you've cooked in the pan.

Pour into a large soup pan. Add the meatballs (be gentle, you don't want them falling apart). Add the carrot, onion and tomato. Add the remaining broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper, and add those to your taste.

Serve hot with tortillas or crackers as a soup, and a good salsa of your choice to add a little spice to the dish.

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email lahuerita2@gmail.com (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)