Albondigas Soup Recipe

Photo Credit: Jerome Pennington

Almost 30 years ago, an emotionally intelligent fellow posited that there are five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. If he had ever met my mother, he might have added a sixth one to that list: food.

Growing up, when my mom was at home and not at work, I remember that, if she wasn’t cooking, she was baking. And if she wasn’t doing either of those things, she was doing the laundry, or cleaning, or gardening, or some other housekeeping chore around the house.

Mom wasn’t the affectionate kind — she didn’t kiss or hug us much, or tell us she loved us. She didn’t really help us with homework (Dad did that). Though my parents had limited financial means, they prioritized our material needs above theirs, even if our so-called needs were borne out of teenage vanity. My mom liked to surprise us with things she found at the Bargain Fair store, sometimes with embarrassingly cheap trinkets that we politely kept on display in our bedrooms to show her we appreciated the thought. But the main way she showed her love was in all the things she quietly did for us in the background — particularly through food.

My mom was a great cook. There was nothing she made that I didn’t love. Her idea of downtime was watching cooking shows, diligently taking notes on index cards. She was an adventurous foodie — she was up for trying anything — but it was her cooking that was fearless. I grew up in the heart of Hollywood, a true melting pot, and my family embraced the rainbow of cuisines in the city. If we ordered something at a restaurant that we’d never had before and ended up loving it, my mom would immediately start thinking about how she could re-create it at home.

Because of the large Latinx community in Southern California, there are Mexican restaurants all over town, and so my love of Mexican food started early. Though I’m of Filipino heritage, classic Mexican dishes like albondigas soup make up a big part of my list of comfort foods. After my mom passed away in 2008, we discovered her collection of handwritten recipes on food-stained index cards. I still have every single one, and the following albondigas recipe is from her collection.

Ingredients

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1/2 cup cooked white rice

  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 egg

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped

  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced

  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 1/2 cup potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 8 cups beef broth

  • 15 oz. can diced tomatoes

  • 8 oz. can tomato sauce

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1 large zucchini, cut into rounds

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Place all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Roll meat mixture into 3/4-inch meatballs and set aside.

  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrots, cooking for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

  3. Add the potatoes, beef broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, cumin, and oregano to the pot, bringing to a simmer and cooking for 10 minutes.

  4. Drop meatballs into the soup and cook for another 10 minutes. 

  5. Add zucchini rounds and cook for another five minutes.

  6. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top and serve immediately.


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