Jan 4, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Albondigas Soup

January is soup month, and this week's recipe was a new one for us: albondigas soup.

"Albondigas" is one of the few words I remember from high school Spanish, because it was just so much fun to say.  But even though I grew up in an area with a high concentration of Hispanics, I don't remember ever eating "sopa de albondigas," or seeing it on any Mexican eatery menus.

At any rate, "albondigas" means meatball, and there are numerous twists on this meat and vegetable soup whose roots date back to Moorish times.  I hope you'll give it a try.  It's fun to say and fun to eat!

Albondigas Soup

Ingredients for meatballs:
1/2 pound chorizo (look for bulk chorizo near other bulk sausages; if using links, be sure it's fresh, not precooked, remove the casings)
1/2 pound lean ground beef (90% or 93% - you don't want greasy soup)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, diced*
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for soup:
6 cups chicken broth (low-sodium is recommended; I thawed my own frozen stock, which is salt-free)
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch chunks or 1 cup frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the rice; set aside.  Saute celery and onion with a tablespoon of oil in a medium-size stockpot or Dutch oven.  When softened, add all other soup ingredients and bring to a high simmer; it should cook for about 20 minutes before you add the meatballs.

While it's bubbling, prepare meatballs by placing all ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl and mixing thoroughly with your hands. (It's messy.)  While your hands are still mucked up, make 20-24 meatballs (each will be about 1 1/2 -2 inches in diameter) Be sure to firmly roll each meatball between your palms as you form it, so it will stick together when it cooks.

Add meatballs one at a time to the gently boiling soup. If the soup stops boiling, wait a minute before adding more meatballs (you want the liquid to be very hot or the meatballs will fall apart.)  Gently shake the pan or carefully and slowly stir through once to make sure the meatballs are submerged.  Cover and simmer at a low boil for another 10 minutes. Serve.  Makes 5-6 generous soup bowls.

*Cilantro:  I used a generous teaspoon of dried cilantro in place of the fresh, because a) IMHO the flavor of fresh cilantro can be overpowering and soapy; and b) I didn't have any on hand. But when I make it again, I will use the fresh cilantro in at least the meatballs to add a little more flavor.  Some recipes insist that fresh diced mint leaves should be used in the meatballs for authentic flavor.  Your call.

Other notes:  To ramp up the flavor, I would recommend substituting a can of mild Rotel or tomatoes with jalapenos, or adding a can of diced green chilis to the tomatoes called for in the recipe.  You may also want to add some chili powder to give it a bit more flavor.  (Or use the fresh cilantro as called for, if you like the flavor.)  This is one of those recipes that has countless variations floating around; that makes it fun to find the heat and spice combination that suits you.

Happy cooking,

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