Liddie’s Traditional NM Dishes: Albondigas

Spanish Meatball Soup by Liddie Martinez. Courtesy photo
 
By LIDDIE MARTINEZ
Española Valley
 
This fickle Northern New Mexico weather takes some getting used to for most folks. I have a nephew who invariably falls for the false spring and plants his dahlias too soon. Every May he calls to lament the late freeze, his losses and the trials of now trying to find replacement bulbs so late in the season.
 
It is easy to forget the weather patterns here and get enticed by the beauty of swaying daffodils and budding tulips, but when the skies turn grey and the wind blows, it is the perfect time for one of my favorite dishes, albondigas.  
 
This traditional Spanish Meatball Soup conjures images of the men in my family, young and old, three generations deep, cleaning acequias and telling stories in archaic Spanish of the days when they hauled tools and men by horse and wagon while the women created delicious meals for the crew filling the kitchen with spices and aromas that mimicked the Spain of old.
 
 The traditional recipe calls for chorizo, but I often substitute with andouille sausage, which still gives the meatballs that wonderfully sweet red pepper and smoky paprika flavor without the intensity of too much heat.  
 
As always, use what you like. If you want a spicier dish, use the chorizo! Another must for this soup is cilantro. I know that people either love it or hate it, but it is a critical flavoring for the meatballs and I urge you to use it. As always, if you really hate it, substitute with flat Italian parsley or a hint of thyme. This recipe is easy to make but you will need to be diligent about the timing so make the tomato sauce first, chop all the vegetables and then form the meatballs before you start the soup base. I’m going to give you the full list of ingredients by component, broken down into easy to follow steps.
 
Albondigas  
Fresh Tomato Sauce

2 ½ Cups sweet tomatoes (cherry or grape) 8-10 garlic cloves, peeled Olive oil Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

 
In a cast iron skillet, roast sweet tomatoes and garlic cloves, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and fresh pepper for 15 minutes in a hot oven at 450° stirring once at midpoint.  
Cool slightly then purée in blender until smooth. Set aside.   
 
Meatballs

1-pound lean ground beef  3 chorizo or andouille sausages, casings removed
¼ cup onion, diced fine
1 raw egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon cilantro, chopped fine  
1/8 Cup white long-grain rice, uncooked

Combine ground beef, sausages, onion, egg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cilantro and rice. Form about 36 meat balls between palms and set aside on sheet pan lined with waxed or parchment paper.

 
Soup Base
2 ½ Cups Fresh Tomato Sauce
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, washed and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 zucchini, washed, quartered lengthwise and sliced
3 large russet potatoes, peeled, washed and diced
32 oz. chicken stock
1-quart water
2 Tbsp. Butter
2 Tbsps. Olive Oil Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

In a Dutch oven, sauté onions, celery, carrots and zucchini until onions are transparent, and then add garlic and tomatoes. Continue to sauté until tomatoes have collapsed and the soup base has thickened.

Add potatoes, chicken stock, fresh tomato sauce and a quart of water and bring to a boil.
When soup comes to a boil, lower flame to simmer and gently lower meatballs into the soup. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and do not disturb for 30 minutes. If you stir at this point, your meatballs will collapse.
 
Serve garnished with a few cilantro leaves or chiffonade.
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