It's been cool during the day here in Mexico City for the couple of months since the rainy season finally got itself underway. Summer in Mexico's Central Highlands is my favorite time of year: cool-to-warm partly sunny days are nearly always followed by downright chilly rainy nights.
For those of you who live in the USA or Canada, it's hard to realize that at more than 7500 feet above sea level, Mexico City has weather completely unlike what many think of as Mexico's desert or even beach temperatures. In the last few days, the afternoon high temperatures have hovered just under 70° Fahrenheit. In Mexico Cooks!' household, cool days always mean something warming and delicious for our comida (midday meal). Subtly-flavored albóndigas--especially as prepared from this recipe, adapted from Diana Kennedy's book The Cuisines of Mexico--are the perfect comfort food.
This is a dandy recipe for cooks of any level: if you're a beginner, you'll love the simplicity and authenticity of the flavors of the end product. If you're a more advanced cook, the people at your table will believe that you worked for hours to prepare this traditional Mexican meal.
All the ingredients you need are undoubtedly easy for you to get even if you live outside Mexico. Here's the list, both for the meatballs and their sauce:
1.5 Tbsp long-grain white rice
Boiling water to cover
3/4 lb ground pork
3/4 lb ground beef
1/4 scant teaspoon dried oregano
4 good-sized sprigs fresh mint (preferably) OR 1 tsp dried mint
1 chile serrano, roughly chopped
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 scant teaspoon cumin seeds OR ground cumin
1/3 medium white onion, roughly chopped
Add the liquified eggs, onions, chile, herbs, and spices to the ground meats and mix well with your hands.
3 medium tomatoes (about 1 lb)
1 chile serrano, roughly chopped (optional if you do not care for a mildly spicy sauce)
Boiling water to cover
3 Tbsp lard, vegetable oil, peanut oil, or safflower oil (I prefer lard, for its flavor)
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
5 cups rich meat or chicken broth, homemade if possible
Salt to taste
2 or 3 carrots, cut into cubes or sticks
2 medium white potatoes, cut into cubes or sticks
A small bowl
A large bowl
A large flameproof pot with cover
Preparing the meatballs
Put the rice in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for about 45 minutes. I use the glass custard cup that you see lying on its side in the initial photo--it's just the right size.
While the rice is soaking, put both kinds of meat into the large bowl.
Put the eggs, onion, and all herbs and spices--in that order--in the blender jar. Blend until all is liquified. Add to the meat mixture and, using your hands, mix well until the liquid is thoroughly incorporated.
Rinse out the blender jar for its next use in this recipe.
Drain the rice and add it to the meat mixture. Form 24 meatballs, about 1.5" in diameter, and set aside.
Preparing the sauce
Bring about 2 cups of water to a full rolling boil. Add the whole tomatoes and allow to cook for about five minutes, until the skins split. Watch the pot, though: this procedure might take a bit less or a bit more time.
When the tomato skins split, take the tomatoes one by one out of the water and peel them. If you've never tried it, believe me: this is miraculously easy--the skins are not too hot to handle and they slip off the tomatoes like little gloves. You can see that I have stuck a fork into the stem end of the tomato for ease of handling.
Skin the tomatoes and put them in the blender jar. Add the roughly-chopped onion and chile serrano. Blend until thoroughly puréed.
Freshly rendered manteca (lard) for frying the sauce. If all you can get in your store is a hard brick of stark white, hydrogenated lard, don't bother. It has no flavor and absolutely no redeeming value. If you want to use lard, ask a butcher at a Latin market if he sells freshly rendered lard. If none is available, use the oil of your choice.
In the flameproof cooking pot, heat the lard or oil and add the tomato purée. Bring it to a boil and let it cook fast for about three minutes. Splatter alert here!
Turn down the flame and add the broth to the tomato sauce. Bring it to a simmer. Add the meatballs, cover the pot, and let them simmer in the liquid for about an hour.
After the first hour of cooking, add the carrots and the potatoes to the tomato broth and meatballs. Cover and cook for an additional half hour. When I made the albóndigas this time, I cubed the vegetables. I think the finished dish is more attractive with the vegetables cut into sticks.
Albóndigas de Jalisco served with steamed white rice (you might also like to try them with Mexican red rice), sliced avocado, and fresh, hot tortillas. This flat soup plate filled with albóndigas and vegetables needs more sauce; we prefer to eat them when they're very soupy. A serving of rice topped with three meatballs plus vegetables and sauce is plenty.
Albóndigas freeze really well, so I often double the recipe; I use a flat styrofoam meat tray from the supermarket to freeze the uncooked meatballs individually, then prepare the sauce, thaw the meatballs, and cook them as described.
The single recipe serves eight.
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