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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Caldo de Albondigas
 Mexican Meatball Soup is a family favorite. Today however, I write this recipe for you with a heavy heart. My brother Dave, passed away just this past Tuesday March 4, 2014 of surgical complications. He was only 59. 

Dave and his beautiful girlfriend Jan
I made this soup for Dave a couple of years ago for his coming home-from-the-hospital-dinner after knee surgery. He texted me that same evening and told me that this was by far and wide the BEST Caldo de Albondigas he's ever had. The BEST! Now that's saying something when he tells you that! 
He was a great cook, fisherman as a serious hobby, and professional musician. He loved having people around and would find any excuse to invite you to eat, watch movies, hang out, or vacation. He was well known and loved by many, many people. This coming Wednesday March 12, 2014 we his family and friends are having a brief memorial service and a full blown out wake in his honor, as he wished. We are expecting somewhere around 400 people to attend! That's a lot of love.
Dave and Jan at her  Psychedelic Birthday Bash
He loved all types of foods but particularly Hispanic/Latin foods: Cuban, South American, Spanish, Mexican. You name it he loved it and as hot as can be! He loved tasting new foods, and really wasn't very squeamish about any of it. I thought that I was very open minded about new foods, but compared to him-no. He ate things that just shocked me! EEW! Is my best reply.
My brother Dave, Alan Ochii, and my brother Kirk
This is a very soul nourishing, filling and satisfying soup. It's rich and thick and brings comfort and warmth, which we could use right now. It's light, but very hearty from the meatballs and vegetables, which are simmered in a sumptuously seasoned beef and tomato broth. It hits the spot perfectly on cold and rainy or snowy nights, or when you need an emotional pick-up. Try sprinkling tortilla strips and grated cheese on top and maybe some fresh avocado slices. I can guarantee you will want seconds! 
This soup will take some time to prepare and then will need to simmer for at least 1 hour and it also freezes very well. I use California Chili powder which is very mild and has great chili taste since I DO NOT like anything hot! However, please feel free to spice this up as much as you can stand!

                    So, here's to you Dave in Your Honor, Caldo de Albondigas.      
Just a jovial happy guy

Mexican Meatball Soup-makes a whompin-huge pot for about 15-20 servings

2 1/2 lb.-80/20% ground beef (any leaner and you sacrifice taste, you can always skim the pot)
1 1/2 lb. ground pork, chicken or turkey, (I grind my own so I know what's in it!)

 1 cup cooked long grain rice - optional, but never instant rice 
2 large eggs
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 1/2 teaspoons ground California Chili powder
1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin powder
2 teaspoons Kosher salt, it dissolves better and quicker than table salt,                              **if using table salt use only 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground poultry seasoning

Soup Base:
2 quarts rich beef, chicken, water, vegetable stock , or a mix of any of them, fresh is best, canned will do
8 ounces tomato paste
1 cup fresh lime juice (about 6-8 limes)
2 - 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1.5 gallons fresh water
6 dried California Chili pods, slice off the stems and remove the seeds by shaking the pod against your hand, discard seeds and stems
3 Tablespoons ground cumin
2 Tablespoons ground California Chili powder
2 Tablespoons plus 1-2 teaspoons Kosher salt, start out with the 2 tablespoons, taste and go from there
2 lbs. fresh carrots, scrubbed-peeled if you want, and cut into 1/4 inch coins
2 lbs. fresh zucchini squash (omit it if you don't like it), cut lengthwise in half if they are bigger than 3 inches in diameter, and then into 1/2 inch slices
2 large brown or white onions, peeled and sliced paper thin

Garnishes: Optional but tasty!
2 large or 3 medium fresh avocados, sliced
1 fresh lime, juiced and sprinkled over the avocados to keep them from turning brown (oxidizing)
Kosher salt to sprinkle on the avocado slices
2 lbs. grated pepper jack or sharp cheddar cheese, or fresh Cotija or Fresco - or a mix of any of them
jalapénos chopped small
1 bunch fresh cilantro, pull leaves from stems, discard stems
1 medium thinly sliced red bell pepper
2 large limes cut into 8 wedges or sliced thinly
2 dozen fresh corn tortillas, cut into 8 wedges or into one inch wide strips
3-4 Tablespoons cooking oil for frying the tortillas
1. In a large bowl combine the ground beef, ground pork, chicken, or turkey, rice if using, eggs, onion, cilantro and spices. Use a very light hand, not a mixer so as to not toughen the meat.
2. Divide the meatball mixture into 1 inch diameter portions with a small portion scoop. Roll each scoop into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator.
portion scooped

rolled into balls
Soup Base:
You can find heat diffusers at middle eastern grocery stores, or online. I highly recommend you use one, it's a huge help for not scorching soups, beans, stews, custards...
3. Place a large stock pot onto the heat diffuser over high heat. Combine whichever option of meat, water, vegetable or combo stock you've chosen, tomato purée, diced canned tomatoes, water, chili pods, ground spices, and salt and pepper. Bring the soup base to a boil, then add the carrots, and sliced onions only, wait on the zucchini. Turn the soup base down to simmer and add the meatballs carefully so you don't splash hot soup onto yourself. I usually use a big slotted spoon or a Chinese spider (a big open weave metal scooping tool). Gently stir the meatballs with a large plastic spatula, this helps to leave the meatballs intact while mixing and stirring.
One of the hydrated chili pods in the upper left of photo. These get removed
before serving and whizzed to a paste, then mixed back into the soup.
4. Simmer meatball soup mixture for a minimum of 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

You will add the zucchini about 5-10 minutes just before serving. 
Overcooking them will produce mush.
While the soup simmers, prepare the garnishes.

Fried corn tortillas:
5. Place two layers of paper toweling into a pie plate for absorbing excess oil.
Heat the cooking oil to 350°F, the oil will be shimmering. Add the tortillas cut into the shape you desire, 4-5 wedges or 5-6 strips at a time, and fry until they are light golden brown. Transfer the cooked ones onto the paper toweling to drain off excess oil, and lightly salt each batch. Repeat until all are done. Set aside.

Fresh Limes:
6. Either thinly slice or wedge cut the fresh limes. Keep them in a baggie or lock-top, refrigerated until ready to use.

7. Cut each avocado in half lengthwise and separate. Then carefully "whack" the pit/seed with the blade of a sharp knife, twist the pit, remove and discard it. Sprinkle each half with some of the fresh lime juice. Next, using a large serving spoon, carefully run it down and under the flesh between the skin and flesh of the avocado, discard the skin. Sprinkle the backs of the avocado with some of the lime juice.
8. Place each avocado half cut side down on a cutting board and slice each half into 4-6 slices, depending on the size of the fruit. Using a small spatula and the tip of your knife (never your hands as the tendency is to smash them), lift the avocado slices onto a serving plate and fan them out so they look pretty. Sprinkle with some of the lime juice and a bit of salt. cover them with plastic wrap and keep chilled till ready to serve.

9. Carefully wash and rinse the fresh cilantro of all debris and dirt, discarding any yellow tinged pieces. Pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Roll the leaves up into a clean, dry kitchen towel and keep chilled until ready to serve.

10. Taste test the soup base and add salt as needed. You need to "fish" out the chili pods which have now rehydrated. I like to put them into a small food processor and whizz them until relatively medium-fine paste texture, and I then stir it into the soup for extra flavor.
TO SERVE:  Yeah! It's about time for Heaven's sake!
*Serve in individual bowls, garnishing each one with a sprinkling of fried tortilla pieces, two slices of avocado, a sprig or leaves of cilantro, sliced red bell pepper, and a slice or wedge of fresh lime stuck over the rim of the bowls.
*Serve extra tortilla pieces, cilantro, chopped jalapénos, sliced red bell pepper, cheese, lime wedges or slices in separate bowls, for guests to add to their bowls of incredible soup.
*This is gorgeous served in a soup terrine. Pile the meatballs up in the center so as to make them very visible, then garnish with bits of cilantro and tortilla strips and a sprinkling of cheese if using. Serve the avocado on a chilled plate, cilantro, chopped jalapéno, sliced red bell peppers all in separate chilled bowls, and tortilla strips or wedges in a basket lined with a towel.

So Enjoy Already!