October 21, 2011

Tomatillo Albondigas Soup

Remember that SNL skit with Jimmy Smits playing a Latino newscaster? He'd be reading his newscast in perfect, unaccented English and then his American colleagues would break into exaggerated Spanish to say Neek-o-ra-gwa or an-chee-lah-dahs?!

That's how I feel saying tomatillos. It's impossible for me to pronounce without going all Sofia Vergara.

Anyway. Have you ever cooked with tomatillos? This was my first time.

Tomatillos are fruits. When you buy them, they're covered in a papery husk that you have to remove before cooking. 

The fruit is smooth on the outside, the color of a Granny Smith apple. Inside, the tomatillo is white and has a sort of spongy texture.

Tomatillos are notoriously sour. Still, when I cut the tomatillo I was surprised by the sharp, tangy smell. It wasn't unpleasant, but it did make my nose itch. Don't worry -- the flavor mellows out a lot when you cook it. Tomatillos are also a little sticky when you cut them, which I also didn't expect.

Once I got past those first impressions, I was pleasantly surprised. Tomatillos become smooth and mellow when you cook them, but they do hold on to some of their tartness. You'll find their flavor familiar if you've eaten Mexican dishes with a "verde," or green, sauce.

In this recipe, the tomatillos become the base for a soup that's made of nothing more than the tomatillos, garlic, onion, chilies, broth and a couple of spices.

The "albondigas" in this soup are meatballs. The recipe called for a mixture of beef and pork but I made the meatballs with ground turkey to keep things a little healthier and lighter. The meatballs contain cooked rice, which I've never seen before. The rice is used as a binder, the way bread or breadcrumbs are used in other meatball recipes.

The mellow meatballs and tangy, slightly spicy soup nicely completely one another. It's a bueno dish, this Toh-mah-tee-yo Al-bon-dee-gas soup!   

Peel the husks off the tomatillos and cut them in half.

Chop the onion, garlic and jalapenos.

Combine everything in a stockpot along with the chicken broth, salt, pepper, and cumin.

Simmer until the tomatillos are tender.

Puree the soup until it's smooth. I used an immersion blender but you could also do this in a blender or food processor.

I had some baby spinach in the fridge so I added it to the soup when I was reheating it.

For the meatballs, combine the meat, onion, rice, egg, salt, pepper, cumin and ground cloves. I didn't have ground cloves so I used a bit of allspice.

Mix the ingredients gently but thoroughly.

Form the meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs.

To cook the meatballs, drop them gently into the soup and let them simmer for about 30 minutes.

Once the meatballs are cooked, taste the soup for salt and pepper.

To serve, squeeze some lime juice over the soup (yes, the soup can take this extra bit of tang) and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Tomatillo Albondigas Soup

Recipe adapted from Cook & Be Merry

1 pounds fresh tomatillos, husks removed and washed, cut in half
1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half
1 small jalapeno peppers, split and seeded
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock
7 sprigs fresh cilantro (I didn't have cilantro so I threw in some baby spinach to give it that green color)

Meatballs (Albondigas)
1/2 pound ground beef chuck (I used 1 pound ground turkey in place of the beef/pork mixture)
1/2 pound ground pork
1 small onion, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup cooked white rice
1 large egg
1 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Juice of 2 limes (1/4 cup)
Leaves from 5 sprigs fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

1.      In a large stockpot or dutch oven, over medium-high heat, combine the tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapeno peppers, cumin, salt, pepper and the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
2.      Reduce the heat and simmer, skimming off any foam that rises to the top, until the tomatillos are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add cilantro sprigs.
3.      Using an immersion blend, puree the soup until smooth. (You can also do this in a blender or food processor).
4.      If the soup is too thick, add some broth or water, and bring soup to a simmer.

1.      While the soup broth is simmering, in a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meat with the minced onion, cooked rice, the raw egg, 1 teaspoons kosher salt, ground cumin and ground cloves, and mix gently but thoroughly.
2.      Form the meat into 1-inch meatballs. Keep your hands lightly moistened with cold water to prevent the ground meat from sticking. The mixture should yield about 20 meatballs.
3.      Place meatballs in the soup and simmer, about 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.
4.      Add ½ cup or more water to replace what has evaporated and to adjust the salt level.

To Serve
1.      Place 4 meatballs in a large soup bowl. Ladle about one cup of soup over the meatballs, and squeeze lime juice into each bowl.
2.      Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve immediately.

Serves 5

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