Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sopa de Albondigas ...Sopa de What??

Mexican meatball soup. A totally soul satisfying meal in a cazuela.  Al-bund-e-gaas or meatballs, derived from an Arabic word for hazelnut or small round object, al-bunduq, according to Wikipedia.
Our friends Shar and Mark were on their way home from the Bay Area to visit us. We thought it was Friday but turned out to be today, Thursday.  I promised a Mexican dinner but really didn't have time to get into a long cooking stew or even a tortilla dish that I would normally make chili salsas for. It was a little blustery out so I thought  a soup would be perfect. Our favorite is this little meatball brothy-vege-chile sopa. Salsa Fresca was a breeze, luckily I only put 1/2 of the wrinkly serrano chile I had on hand in it. We had some thick corn tortillas from Trader Joe's in the freezer from who knows how long ago. Time to fry them up in peanut oil. The only avocado I had was from the local supermarket. I haven't had much luck with them but thought I was keeping the avocados too long at room temperature then putting them in the vege bin in the refrigerator, because the insides were that stringy brown.  This one was mostly that but I managed to get some green from near the pit. I didn't even have it that long! Luckily I had some salsa verde and just blended them together for a mild salsa. Moral of story: buy locally grown avocados from now on as they are coming in at the Farmer's market.  Let's see, what else goes with a good sopa, oh, Quesadillas!  This is the third try with these flour tortillas and I resorted to my really old method of folding them in half, filled with shredded jack cheese and brushing both sides liberally with peanut oil before baking them.  It worked!  They were crispy with that melted cheese oozing out, not one bit cardboard-y as in the past. On my brunchingwithtwobythesea  blog, I swore I was going to make my own flour tortillas from now on and maybe I will but not today.  Everything was coming together before our guests burst on the scene.  Margaritas were at the ready with my kumquat marmalade for an unexpected kick. Steve quickly gave the guest bathroom a once over and I set a festive table.

Shar is one of my dearest friends. She used to work with me at Peachy Canyon Winery with her two Jack Russell Terriers. One of them is still with her, Macho.  He came bounding in the door so happy to be at the beach.  Little did he know he wasn't going to see the beach this trip. No matter, he danced around happy to get petted and looking for any scrapes I might have dropped...sorry Macho.

We had a good time getting caught up with Mark's past week in Sacramento lobbying for his hospital budget and Shar's two adorable grandchildren that they visited in Oakland.

Break out the margaritas, salsa and chips!  Some people can't tolerate heat in their salsa so that mild salsa verde con avocado came in handy.  My favorite thing to do when I get fresh chiles which is almost always the Serrano chile is to let them sit out at room temperature in one of my little Mexican bowls until they start to get wrinkly. Otherwise they are not one bit hot at this time of the year. The trouble is that I put them in the aforementioned vege bin and forget them so they are really "aged" to hotness. Great for me but not so great for hubby and alot of our friends.  What happened to every one's heat tolerance? I used to be able to make salsas from Habaneros!  Steve has an excuse coming off his throat thing.  Slowly he is able to get a little more of the good heat in his food.

The first thing Shar noticed is the soup simmering away on the stove top in one of my cazuelas. These are the pottery casseroles you see all over Mexico filled with soups, stews, salsas and chile rellenos. I have cooked in them for many years and love the flavors they impart.  As a matter of fact I was just discussing this with one of my "blog mates" Tigress in a Pickle when she posted an article from  Apartment Therapy and Donald Judd's minimalist style.  In his kitchen were beautiful thick handled Mexican cazuelas that I would have loved to have had a few years ago. My collection is just fine for my lifestyle now and it was all hand picked and carried back from various towns in Mexico and Baja by me.
We followed the Margaritas with wine. "Dead Nuts" a really good blend from Chronic Cellars winery where Shar and Mark just happened to join their wine club today. Steve had a good fire going in the fireplace and we settled in to watch American Idol with Macho at our feet.

This soup is very easy. It is from Diana Kennedy's "Nothing Fancy" cookbook with a few of my twists.

                                          Sopa de Albondigas
1 Tbsp. long grained rice
   Cover with boiling water and let soak for 20-30 min.
6 oz. gr. beef
6 oz. gr. pork
1 egg
pinch of cumin seed*
4 black peppercorns
pinch dried oregano*
1/3 c. chopped white onion
3 leaves of fresh mint
1/2 tsp. sea salt

* a pinch is about 1/8 tsp.

   Mix beef and pork together. In a blender jar add egg and the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.  Add this mixture to the meats  as well as the drained rice. Mush together with your hands until combined.
Form little 1" meatballs. I got 22 of them. Set aside.

Clean out the blender jar for the broth.

1/2# chopped tomatoes or 1 can diced chopped tomatoes ( about 2 cups total)
1/2 chile chipotle (from the canned in adobe kind) I usually like to use the whole chile but have guests to consider. You have to determine the heat scale people can tolerate before blowing them out of the water.
1 small white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
  Blend all in blender.

In a cazuela or skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. vege oil ( I like peanut oil)
Add the tomato puree and cook over high heat for 2 minutes or so until it is thick and reduced.

To finish:
3 small carrots, peeled and diced into 1/4" cubes
1 med. zucchini, diced into 1/4" cubes
2 c. broth, chicken, vege or beef
4 c. water
1 tsp. sea salt or to taste
1 chile Serrano
2 large sprigs cilantro

Add the chopped veges, broth, water and salt to the tomato puree.  Bring to a simmer. Carefully add the meatballs. Cut a slit in the chile and add it as well as the cilantro springs to the soup.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 50 min.  The meatballs will float and you will see "a rich gleam on the surface" in Diana's words.
Remove the chile.  It could be quite picante so you might want to just add the 1/2 chipotle to start or omit the chile serrano or just go for it!
This serves 4 as an entree.

Sopa de Albondigas

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