Friday, September 3, 2010

My Heritage In Food

One particular recipe I have spent years trying to perfect, is albondigas soup.  It is a Mexican meatball soup I grew up with.  My father is Mexican.  When he was going to marry my mother (mostly of Norwegian descent) his mother, Mama Chita, thought it VERY important that she teach my mother how to make dad's favorite Mexican dishes.  My own mother was a fantastic student, and I remember growing up eating tortillas, beans, rice, tamales, enchiladas, and albondigas on a regular basis. 

The smell of these foods always take me back to my mom's kitchen, and even to my uncle's home, where our extended family would gather and create memories!  These are those happy wonderful childlike "homey" memories that only special smells can conjure in the mind of an adult.  For me, this experience only happens in my mother's kitchen, my own kitchen, or one special little restaurant on Olvera Street in the heart of Los Angeles, where I was often taken as a child.

When my husband and I left California and moved to Virginia, we quickly saw that finding good Mexican food would be a challenge.  Not ready to despair, I remembered a recipe book that my dear cousin, Nita, gave us for our wedding.  It contains many family recipes I promised myself I would master and pass on to my children.  It had one huge omission -  NO albondigas soup!!!  A quick call to my mother, and she shared her secrets all from memory.  I tweaked it until it was perfect, at least in my humble opinion.  A few years later... I know this recipe like an old friend.  I am teaching my oldest daughter, Peanut, how to make it.  It is so special to me, that when someone wants the recipe, initially, I get this fear, that I'm giving a part of myself away.  But no.  It is simply my heritage in food.  So here is a little picture:

I had already eaten half the bowl before realizing I should take a picture.
Now here is the recipe!

2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
3 tbls bacon grease
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
3 quarts beef broth

2 lbs lean ground beef
2 eggs
1/2 cup rice
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

Large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

1  7 oz can "El Pato" brand Mexican hot tomato sauce (always available at Mexican markets).  This will add the spicy hot flavor to the soup.  Use more or less according to  taste.  You may also use fresh serrano chili or jalapeno. 

In a large stock pot, heat bacon grease over med-high heat.  Add onion, bell pepper, carrots, and celery.  Saute a few minutes until fragrant, then add diced tomatoes and cook liquid down a little (about 5 minutes).  Stir in cumin, add broth, and Mexican tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, prepare meatballs (albondigas).  Combine eggs, cumin, rice, garlic, and 1/2 the cilantro in a large bowl.  Whisk it until "foamy".  Add ground beef and mix with your hands.  Shape into small balls and drop into boiling soup.

Cook albondigas about 15-20 minutes.  Skim any fat from the top, then add the remaining cilantro just before serving.  Serves well with tortilla chips, especially homemade.  Also, very tasty with heated fresh corn or flour tortillas and butter.

****If you decide to make this, come back here and leave a comment!  I want to know what you think.  :-)


  1. Paige-

    We really identify with the dietary disruption with moving from California to points east. It took two years to find a place to buy queso fresca, tamale wrappers, plabano chilies, fresh chorizo .....

    Thanks for taking up the cause! Now that the summer heat is breaaking, we're goning to try the albondigas!

    Art & Donna

  2. You knkow you've just made my day all that much brighter! I can't wait to make this soup. I always wanted to spend time with you in your kitchen while you worked your magic. Some day you'll have to stop through here on one of your travels West, I have a wonderful tamale place I'd like to take your family to!