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One of My Favorite Comfort Foods - and Making Do

(post, DawnHeather Simmons)

When I was a kid, there was a restaurant in Los Angeles called Margarita’s.  Although it was a good 50 miles or more each way, we drove there to eat almost every weekend.  Their meals included albóndigas soup.  Once, Mom and Dad asked Margarita how it was made and she very graciously told us.  In those days, you couldn’t find cilantro just anywhere.  It was a big celebration in our house when the super-mega-mart started carrying cilantro!  (We learned you could substitute crushed coriander seeds, but it wasn’t the same.)  Mom continued to make albóndigas long after we moved away from southern California, and then I began to make it, as well.  It’s one of my favorite comfort foods.  I usually make this soup pretty spicy, because that’s the way I like it.  I’ve served this soup to several of my friends and they often ask how it’s made.  It’s really easy.  The hardest thing is the meatballs, themselves, which are just messy, but not hard to make.  My brother, a professional chef, really loved meatballs, and this soup was also one of his favorites.  

Albóndigas Soup

Beef stock, broth, or bouillon
2 cans stewed tomatoes
the better part of a jar of salsa (any salsa you like
1 – 2 lbs ground beef
2 eggs
oatmeal, rice, or bread crumbs (holds the meat mixture together)
1 bunch fresh cilantro
up to 1 whole white or yellow onion
Corn tortilla pieces

In a large pot, heat the stock to boiling.  Add tomatoes, and salsa to taste.  Clip the cilantro leaves into the cooking stock, reserving stems. Chop the cilantro stems for later.  Slice most of the onion and add to pot.  Chop the remaining onion into small chop.  In a large bowl, combine meat, about 2 Tbsp salsa, chopped cilantro stems, chopped onion, eggs, and grain or bread crumbs. Mix very well.  Form meatballs and drop carefully into the hot stock.  Cook until meatballs are cooked through.  (This soup can be ready in an hour or two, but the meatballs can be tough if not cooked long enough).  Like most soups, it’s better the next day than on the day you make it.

To serve, tear up a few corn tortillas, and drop tortilla bits into the bottoms of each bowl.  Ladle meatballs and soup over the tortilla bits, and serve.  (Note:  The tortillas really add to the soup, but if you put them directly into the soup pot, they always mush up, stick to the bottom, and burn.) (Another option is to use your favorite corn chips which is good, and gives a little different dimension to the soup) (I prefer tortillas.)

Today, when I went to make my albóndigas soup, I realized I was out of oatmeal (a non-traditional ingredient, but I like the texture of meatballs made with oatmeal).  Everything else was on hand, and I wasn't in the mood to head out to the store for nothing but oatmeal.  So I scrounged a bit, and came up with some cornmeal, some wheat germ, a leftover biscuit, and a sample-sized box of multi-grain Cheerios.  I decided what the heck, and threw them all in, only slightly afraid of what the result might be.  As it turns out, the meatballs came out just fine.  I could taste the wheat germ a little bit, but everything else melded in just like always.  And it brought to mind another part of my childhood:  making do with whatever you had on hand, because we were sorta poor, and that's just what you did back then.  

These days, more and more of us are tightening our belts and re-learning the habit of making do.  I think that's probably a good thing.  

And my soup was delicious!