I can’t help but think about that preciously sweet time of courtship between my husband and I many years back whenever I think of albondigas soup. Just considering it, and imagining that time of my life, automatically curls my lips up into a big, mischievous smile, and fills my heart with an extra little “thump-thump” and a soft haziness, the kind that nudges me on into a warm, lingering daydream or fuzzy reminiscence.
It’s kind of funny, though not at all surprising, that some of the things that my now hubby and I longed to know about each other and talk about when we first connected, were things of a food nature. I know it may sound silly, but the truth is, I really think you can get to know a lot about someone—how they approach things, how they see things; are they daring, boring, loving, colorful, etc.—by how they feel about food. Have you ever noticed that?
I vividly remember sharing with my then quickly-becoming-best-friend that cooking and food were my passion, not only professionally speaking, but in life in general. And I remember him responding that he, too, absolutely adored cooking, and had cooked for himself quite often; that preparing a good, rich albondigas soup was one of his favorite, most comforting things that he loved to savor. I remember thinking, “Ah…he likes things that are cozy, comfy AND spicy.” He certainly seemed like the perfect match for me! And now, all these years later, I can very joyfully tell you that, indeed, he was.
There’s no question that food can be a big part of the bonding process between us creatures of the two-legged kind. Food elicits emotions; it stirs up that part of the soul that deeply longs to nurture (give), and to also be nurtured (to receive). It wakes up our senses and gets our juices flowing, and it creates an opportunity to slow down, relax, become more acutely aware of our senses, and just enjoy some time really getting to know one another, or strengthening that bond that is already there between us.
When we cook together, or when we eat together, we share in the sort of basic activity of survival; we’re there alongside each other during this process of taking pleasure in sustenance, and often open our hearts up and communicate what is deep inside of us because there is a comfort and gratitude in the process of eating a good meal.
It’s a bonding experience of the best kind.
This comforting, mildly spicy and hearty albondigas stew recipe this week is inspired by my sweet, cozy, comfy and mildly spicy hubby. It’s my way of showing him a little tender, loving care, and giving back to him some of the nurture that he gives to me.
It’s a special little warm blanket for us to wrap ourselves in; a pillowy little fort to find a few moments of shelter and refuge from the craziness of this world. And I hope that it can do the same for you.
May we all enjoy a little taste of sweet, simple bonding, even if just one delicious spoonful at a time.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Spicy Albondigas Stew with Fresh Cilantro & Mint, topped with Crispy, Lime-Salted Tortilla Strips
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves about 6
• 1 pound ground beef (85/15 lean to fat ratio)
• 1/3 cup uncooked white rice
• 1 slice white (or rustic style) bread, processed into fine breadcrumbs
• 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro leaves, divided use
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped, fresh mint leaves, divided use
• 1 egg, whisked
• 1 teaspon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin, divided use
• ½ teaspoon black pepper, divided use
• Pinch red pepper flakes
• Canola or vegetable oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 3 carrots, peeled and diced
• 2 celery ribs, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 3 ounces (about ½ a can) tomato paste
• 1 chipotle pepper, minced
• 1 ½ tablespoons adobo sauce (sauce from chipotles)
• ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
• 2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
• 4 cups beef stock, hot
• 1 small yellow squash, diced
• ½ cup frozen green peas, thawed
• 2 teaspoons lime juice
• ¼ cup Cotija cheese, for garnish
• Crispy, Lime-Salted Tortilla Strips, for garnish (recipe below)
• Extra cilantro leaves, for garnish
-Prepare the meatballs for the stew by adding the ground beef into a large bowl, followed by the rice, the breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons worth of the chopped mint, 1 tablespoon worth of the chopped cilantro, and the egg; next, add in the salt, ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper, ¼ teaspoon of the ground cumin, and the pinch of red pepper flakes.
-Mix the meat with the ingredients to incorporate all of the seasonings, rice, bread and egg, then begin making the meatballs by taking about 1 tablespoon-size portions of the meat, and rolling it between your palms to shape; once all meatballs are rolled, place into the fridge to chill for about 15 minutes.
-Place a large soup pot over medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of oil; once the oil is hot, add in the onion, carrots and celery, and sweat the vegetables for about 3-4 minutes until softened.
-Add in the garlic, and once that becomes aromatic, add in the tomato paste, stir, and allow it to cook for about 1-2 minutes.
-Next, add in the minced chipotle pepper and the adobo sauce, and stir to combine; add in the remaining ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, the remaining ¾ teaspoon of ground cumin, and the smoked paprika, and stir to combine.
-Add in the diced russet potatoes and stir to incorporate those, then add in the hot beef stock, and once again, stir.
-Once the stew begins to simmer, slowly begin adding the meatballs in a few at a time, and very gently stir to distribute/move them, taking care not to break them up.
-Once all the meatballs are added in, allow the stew to gently simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, occasionally stirring very gently.
-After the 30 minutes, add in the diced squash, and continue to cook for additional 5 minutes, or until the squash, potatoes and meatballs are completely tender.
-To finish the stew, add in the peas, the lime juice and the remaining 2 teaspoons chopped mint and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, and stir to combine.
-Serve topped with Crispy Lime-Salted Tortilla Strips, a sprinkle of Cotija cheese and additional cilantro.
Crispy, Lime-Salted Tortilla Strips Ingredients:
• Vegetable oil
• ½ teaspoon lime zest
• ½ teaspoon sea salt
• 4 corn tortillas, cut in half, then those halves into very thin strips
-Add about 1-2 cups of oil to a medium-sized heavy bottom sauce pan or pot, and bring the oil up to 350°.
-While the oil is heating, prepare your lime-salt by combining the zest with the sea salt in a small dish, and rubbing between your fingers to infuse the salt very well with the zest; set aside.
-Once the oil is at temp, add about half of the strips in and fry until golden and very crispy, about 2-3 minutes (stir a little bit); place the fried strips onto a paper towel-lined bowl to drain, and sprinkle over a generous couple of pinches of the lime-salt; repeat the process with the remaining strips.
-Use immediately, or if making a day ahead, store the completely cooled strips in a paper towel-lined ziplock bag.