Wednesday, September 16, 2015

¡Viva México!
What’s cooking? Albóndigas Soup

Speaking of celebrations – I was just speaking of celebrations, wasn’t I? – today is a most important day to remember our neighbors to the South. That would be in Mexico, where today is the official Día de Independencia. (And for those of you who are noting that you’re reading this on September 17th, I want it also noted that I actually hit the Publish button before midnight. Enough with the smart remarks. Just make the soup.)

A Historical Note (I know, I can’t help myself): Mexico’s War of Independence began in the tiny town of Dolores, in the state of Guanajuato, on September 16, 1810. Spanish colonial officials had uncovered a plot to overthrow their government; and when the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who had been part of the plot, learned the news, he had to act quickly. He ran to the center of Dolores, rang the church bell, and delivered an electrifying speech calling for everyone to take up arms against the Spanish Crown. The large and disparate mob that assembled marched with Hidalgo toward Mexico City, sparking an uprising against Spanish rule that finally achieved victory 11 years later.

As with its U.S. counterpart, the day is now most often referred to by its date (Dieciseis de Septiembre) rather than its name (Día de Independencia). According to the International Times, the celebration actually begins at 11p.m. on the evening of September 15, with the President of Mexico reenacting the “Grito de Dolores” (the Cry of Dolores). He rings the bell of the National Palace in Mexico City, then repeats a patriotic cry and shouts, “¡Viva México!” three times, before waving the flag of Mexico.

* * *

For the Kitchen Goddess, the Dieciseis de Septiembre is a great excuse to make one of her favorite soups: Albondigas Soup. Not because it’s an elegant gourmet dish – it’s not. In fact, it’s a delightfully mundane sort of dish – not unlike the hodgepodge of rebels that initiated the revolution. It’s a dish filled with the bright primary colors of Latino celebrations, a dish that’s fun to make and stars the basic elements of good, earthy Mexican cuisine. Also a great excuse to buy a bag of tortilla chips.

So without further ado, here it is. Albondigas – which means “meatballs” in Spanish – is a traditional Mexican soup featuring spicy (not hot) meatballs, swimming in a flavorful stew of fresh vegetables and herbs. It’s good the first day, and good the second day if you can make it last that long. I first saw this version in a skinny book of soups from Williams-Sonoma, back in the days when you could buy something from W-S for less than $20. I’ve loved it from the beginning. You can make it with pork or turkey if you want an alternative to beef.

Albóndigas Soup

Adapted from Soups, in the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library.

Serves 8-10.

For the meatballs:
1 pound lean ground beef
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
¾ cup crushed tortilla chips
¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the soup:
7 cups beef stock (low fat if possible), or chicken stock
1 16-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup carrots, in ½-inch dice
¾ cup celery, in ½-inch dice
1 cup onion (1 medium onion), in ½-inch dice
1 bay leaf

To make the meatballs: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and mix well. Cover the bowl with cellophane wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Form the meat mixture into small balls about 1 inch to 1½ inches in diameter.

Kitchen Goddess note: The process of forming all those little balls is a lot easier if you set out a bowl of water to moisten your hands while you work. When your hands are wet, the meat won’t stick to them. Also, it’s helpful to have a spoon to use for keeping the size of the meatballs consistent; the KG uses a teaspoon to gauge the amount of meat mixture for each ball.

Set the finished meatballs on a plate or plates while you work your way through the mixture. Refrigerate the finished meatballs while you ready the soup.

In a large soup pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), combine the stock and tomatoes, using a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes or a knife to cut them into coarse pieces. Stir in the sugar and Aleppo pepper (or pepper flakes), then add the carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the temperature to a simmer.

Remove the meatballs from the fridge and gently roll them into the simmering stock. Once all the meatballs are in the soup, return the stock to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer the soup gently for 20-25 minutes, until the meatballs and vegetables are cooked through.

To serve, remove and discard the bay leaf. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with chips or warm tortillas and a salad.


  1. SO fun to meet you at IFBC in Seattle! Your blog is lovely and I will be a follower!

  2. Thanks so much! It was lovely meeting you, too. I really enjoyed the conference -- great opportunity for networking, and always fun getting together with like-minded souls. Good luck with your blog!

  3. So fun to chat with you at the IFBC! Your business card is my favorite one I received! So pretty!

    1. Thanks so much, Holly! I was just at your site and love all those soft linen goods. I'll have to include you in my annual Holiday Shopping post.