Saturday, April 10, 2010

Albondigas Soup

I was working at the Palm Steakhouse, in Philadelphia, when I first ate albondigas soup.  When I was really unlucky, I had to write the specials on a chalkboard for everyone to see.  I have horrible handwriting, so my being delegated this task was not just a punishment for me, but for everyone else that had to look at it.  One day, the chef hands me a piece of paper with the specials on it.  I proceeded with my usual grumbling about the task at hand, until the soup of the day distracted me.  It was something magical called “Albondigas.”  As soon as I had finished scribbling on that blasted chalkboard, I bolted into the kitchen and ate a bowl.  Albondigas is a hearty soup Mexican soup.  It consists of a rich broth, flavored with cumin and cilantro, mingling with vegetables and tender little meatballs.

This soup is essentially a meal in bowl.  At the Palm, albondigas is garnished with fried tortilla strips.  In general, I think fried tortilla strips are over-rated.  But they have their place on albondigas.  I recently found a recipe for this soup in Bon Appétit.  I used this, combined with what I could remember from the Palm, to form my own conglomerate.  The resulting soup was comforting and hearty, but not too rich.  I skipped the tortilla strips because I am afraid to deep-fry in the tight quarters of my apartment.  This may be a little irrational, but it is what it is.  I’m sure crushed up tortilla chips would have been a fine substitute, but I don’t think anyone missed them.  I apologize for the lack of pictures.  I was cooking for actual people (instead of my own lone belly), and I apparently found it too challenging to chat, cook, and photograph simultaneously.  I’ll try to do better next time.

Albondigas Soup (loosely adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 lb. ground chicken
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 large egg
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
¼ onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 garlic clove, grated (a microplane works best here)
About a tablespoon of tomato paste (or ketchup)
1-2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon kosher salt
lots of freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juices
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup white rice
1 zucchini, chopped
½ to 1 cup frozen corn

Shredded cheese

·      First make the meatballs.  In a small mixing bowl, add all of the ingredients for the meatballs, besides the chicken, and mix together with clean hands.  Then gently fold in the chicken with your hands until it is just mixed through.
·      Set up a sheet pan or large baking dish and line with waxed paper.  Then about a tablespoon and a half of the mixture into a meatball and set on the waxed paper.  It’s helpful to a have a bowl of water near by to dip your fingers in to prevent the meat from sticking.  The meatballs can be whatever size you like.  Mine were about an inch and half in diameter.
·      Cover the meatballs and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready for them.
·      In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add chopped onion, celery, bell pepper, poblano, and minced garlic.  Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 10 minutes. 
·      Then add the stock, tomatoes, cumin, chile powder, oregano, and hot pepper flakes.  Stir to combine.  Increase heat to high, and bring to a gentle boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. 
·      Add rice and meatballs to the soup.  Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, making sure the broth is simmering at all times.
·      Add zucchini and corn, and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.
·      Serve soup and garnish with shredded cheese and fresh cilantro.

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