Albondigas Soup for the Blocked Writer’s Soul

It's not that I don't like you. It's not that I don't care. But most of the time, after doing things such as working and cooking, cleaning the house, paying bills, and gazing out the window for what seems like hours on end, I find that I simply cannot blog once a week. I have a problem—a big problem. You see . . . how can I put this: I have a writer's block the size of a boulder in the brain.
What to do? What to do?
I have searched high and low, looking for the best recipe to get your and my creative juices flowing, to help send us into wondrous flights of fancy. One that by its mere smell conjures up sweet memories that you thought you had forgotten for all time. The kind of food that makes you witty, intelligent and wise, and if not, then at least sound like you are.
Well, I have just one thing to say:

Albóndigas Soup.
Ah, let the inspiration begin . . .

The perfect soup to warm the heart and stomach of many a Mexican on a crisp fall evening. Once there is the slightest snap in the air, I can't look at another cold salad in the face until spring starts. Besides being one of my most favorite soups, it costs so little to make--how great is that? Since this is a complete meal, just add some cut limes and corn tortillas, and you are done. Most measurements are approximate, so you can fiddle with the recipe, making it as plain or as gussied up as you like. This soup is in many ways a blank canvas so feel free to improvise and add more or different vegetables. May I suggest thin sliced zucchini, julienned pasilla chilies or even red bell pepper for a bit of color? Just saute them along with the the garlic, celery, carrots and onion as instructed. Add a bit of red chili salsa for some heat, or even green tomatillo salsa (as I did here) to the finished soup.
Of course, food is more than just fuel--it is so much more: for some it is a drug, or others it means love, and for some of us, like Marcel Proust's madeleine cookie, it is the stuff of memory, imagination, and yes, amigos mios, inspiration.

Albóndigas Soup for the Blocked Writer's Soul
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil.
1 celery stalk, cut crosswise
½ or more white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat end of a knife
2 or 3 white, thin-skinned potatoes, chopped into bite-sized chunks (optional)
8 cups or more beef broth (homemade is best, but canned broth will do)
2 juicy tomatoes, diced; or, approximately 1 16 oz. can of Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
Approximately 1 cup of carrots, sliced crosswise into thin disks
1 bay leaf
Pinch of cumin or to taste
Salt (or garlic salt) and pepper to taste

Approximately 1 lb of lean (about 7% fat) ground beef
½ bunch of cilantro, chopped
1½ cups of cooked white long-grain rice
1 large egg
1 heaping tablespoon of "Menudo Mix" or dried oregano

Chop, slice, or dice all vegetables. In a large pot, sauté onion, garlic, celery and carrots in the vegetable oil until the onion is golden brown in color. Add tomatoes and continue sautéing over medium flame until the tomatoes are melted and the inside edge of the pot is a nice golden brown.
Next, add chicken broth, cumin, and bay leaf and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, covered.
While soup is simmering, prepare meatballs as follows: In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef, rice, egg, "menudo mix" or oregano, and cilantro by hand. Add salt and pepper to taste. Using a light touch (you do not want tough meatballs), roll mixture into balls a little less than 1 inch in diameter.
After 30 minutes, check soup and make sure that all the vegetables are tender, especially the carrots and celery. If not, continue cooking until they are done. Bring up to the heat and boil meatballs in soup for approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Check by taking out a meatball and splitting it in half to make sure there is no pink. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with cut limes and hot corn tortillas, beans or whatever you want.
This soup tastes best the next day.
Variation: For the meatballs, omit cilantro. Use chopped fresh basil instead. ¡Ay,
ay, ay!


corine said...

My oh my what a delicious looking blog you have here, and it has a soul too.

I don't like beans and used to associate mexican food with them, until i discovered tamales. I have never bee the same woman since. In 2006 I had a tamales for lunch every day. I would buy it from this cool family that came to my local farmers market.

Now I've slowed down a bit because they were not good for my waste line. Do you know if there is a way to make them without animal fat?

La Traductora said...

Dear Corine,
Thank you for your kindness!
Now, about tamales without animal fat: They can be made using butter, but I suppose that would constitute an animal fat, so I would say you can use vegetable shortening. However, purist that I am, I would say that pork drippings, lard, and bacon grease are simply the most flavorful. If you are not a vegetarian, go ahead and enjoy. Tamales are not meant to be eaten everyday. They are a festive food for special occasions. One day I will devote a post on the glories of a great tamale. In the meantime, eat them without a shred of guilt! ;)

San said...

This sounds delectable. I'm glad I found your blog. I love Mexican cooking--I find it so nurturing.

Thank you for visiting me recently. Your comments were most appreciated!

Anonymous said...

The rain is falling, the wind is blowing, I'm wearing the "big cozy robe", and even my cats are sleeping with their furry arms around each other to stay warm. What to make for dinner? Oh Yes! Albondiga soup! After all, being the good Mexican girl that I am,(wink!) I already have all the ingredients! Thanks for reminding me of this most delicious soup my mom used to make.

La Traductora said...

No hay de que--although I'd use your mom's recipe if I were you to make the memory all the more sweeter.

Pearmama said...

I left you the most complimentary comment for this post the other day but I couldn't publish it somehow. Hmmm, let me see if I can recreate it.

Thank you for conjuring up so many warm memories for me. I think I took being in the kitchen with my Nana and my mom and my tias (my tio's too--they could cook as well as the women!) for granted. I used to see it as drudgery, but now when I think back--how special were those times! How we talked and laughed and ate. I see how much our culture is tied up in food and traditions. There is such a wonderful feeling of warmth in a Mexican family's kitchen.

Albondigas soup...mmmmmm. I'm making some tonight, but with groudn turkey!

La Traductora said...

Hi Pearmama,
Buen apetito, chiquita!

Ray said...

The soup is testy.

La Traductora said...

Hola Ray!
I hope you mean that the soup is TASTY. Howver, if you add a lo of chile to it, it will be one testy soup! Gracias for visiting!

Lorena said...

those albondigas look muy amazing. A treat for the north idaho soul. Not to brag, but the only decent cooking around here is in our kitchen. Those Scandanavians who settled here are good people but let me tell you, they lack culinary imagination. Lutefisk(dried rotten fish) in no way compares to albondigas

Clementina said...

Your comment reminds me of the movie "Babette's Feast". Trust me,just by your being there, your Scandanavian friends' culinary world just got a little more delicious.
Saludos! (and I hope you'll like the soup!)

Anonymous said...

To start off, you have an amazing and appetizing blog. I recently found it while searching for a recipe for Abondigas, and wow.. I'm so happy i found not only a really good recipe, but one of the best blogs I've seen. You have amazing stories, and even more amazing recipes.

My family and I like to consider myself a good cook, but i was remembering when my grandmother would make this when i was younger, but i didn't know how to do it. So i found your blog and recipe, and when i cooked this recipe, my whole family was amazed and said i had out done myself. But i owe it all to you, and I'd like to thank you for not only this great recipe, but for bringing back great memories of my childhood and my grandmother.

Keep up the work on your amazing blog, I've bookmarked you and i intend to keep up with your blog.

Once again thank you and God bless(:

Clementina said...

Hola, Benito
Just when I start to believe that I will never write again, that everything I cook tastes like NADA, when la inspiracion has permanently left the building, someone kind like you comes along. . .