Mexican Meatball Soup is a very light broth soup, with lots of vegetables that are happily almost always in season, and savory soft meatballs. Herbs are essential for the meatballs and the broth - fresh oregano or dried, some tarragon, mint and thyme for the broth. The vegetables, cut larger than usual, like carrots, squash, zucchini and potatoes, and the soup is garnished at serving with cilantro and fresh lime. This soup is definitely both fresh and hearty.
As always, broth is key. I started early in the day with a light chicken broth - a whole small chicken simmered with celery, carrot chunks, a medium onion studded with clove, lots of parsely, a couple of pinches of dried tarragon and a tsp. of salt. You can always add more salt and pepper later.
While the broth is simmering, cook up a cup of rice, part of which will be used in the meatballs, and the rest will go into the soup.
Still not ready to make soup: the meatballs should be started a good hour before the soup is assembled. This gives the meat and spices a chance to bond. The meatballs loosely covered can rest in a cool place or in the refrigerator for an hour or two. Once the broth and meatballs are prepped and ready, the vegetables take little time to prepare. The soup itself, with vegetables and meatballs, doesn't need more than a 30 minute simmer. While this soup tastes wonderful the second day (just like a minestrone), longer initial cooking won't add a thing. This soup needs to showcase the freshness of the vegetables and herbs, and with overcooking, the root vegetables get too sweet and the herbs turn bitter.
1 small soup chicken, washed and trimmed of excess skin and fat
2-3 qts water
1 medium onion, studded with 2 or 3 cloves
2 carrots, cut in chunks
2 celery stalks and some celery leaves, cut into 2 inch pieces
8 - 10 parsley stems
2 stalks of fresh tarragon, or 1 heaping teaspoon of dried
1 tsp salt
Put the chicken in a stock pot, add water and bring to a boil. Salt water, and as foam forms, skim as much as you can. When foam subsides, add vegetables and herbs, lower heat to a bare simmer and continue cooking 1-1/2 hrs, or until chicken is well poached, with meat falling of the bone. Remove chicken to a plate to cool, then strain the broth through a fine strainer.
1/2 lb good ground beef. Sirloin is great - avoid very lean chopped beef.
1/2 lb good ground pork or turkey. Pork + sirloin is a great flavor combo - turkey is 2nd best.
1/4 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cooked rice
1 tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano (use less dry)
1 Tbsp. minced parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix the corn meal and milk. Let stand 5 minutes. Beat the egg and add to the corn meal and milk. Put the meats in a bowl and work with a fork to break down the meat into a fine mash. Add the seasonings, rice and herbs and continue to work with a fork. Add the egg-cornmeal mixture and continue to work meat into a uniform mass. Form meat into 1 inch balls - you should have about 20. Arrange on a plate, covering loosely with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool place for a goo hour or two.
2 Mexican zucchini squash, halved lengthwise and thick sliced
2 Carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch dice
2 - 3 medium potatoes - California whites or reds are best - peeled and cut into 1 inch dice
1 medium onion, sliced in 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup canned diced tomatoes with some juice
1 sprig fresh spearmint
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 - 3 sprigs fresh oregano
Chopped Cilantro and lime to garnish
Heat broth to boiling, add the onions and carrots, and once the water comes back to a boil, add the potatoes, squash, zucchini, tomatoes and herbs. Drop in the meatballs and simmer at gentle rolling boil for about 25 minutes. Stir in cook rice. Serve the soup with the chopped cilantro and squeeze fresh lime into each bowl.