Friday, January 01, 2010

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs.


Poblano Albóndigas with Ancho Chile Soup


There is something to be said about a meatball. They're akin to the nice boy that you gently let down, saying you'd prefer to stay friends. Then after you've carried on and had your fill of exotic and wild 'dishes', you realize that the meatball really does have it all.  Meatballs aren't complicated, they're not pretentious and they don't flaunt themselves about. They're humble, unassuming, abashed even. And yet they are so inherently satisfying and comforting. There is no limit to the possibilities and versatility of a meatball. They've been around for centuries and are featured in every culture around the world. But not all meatballs are created equal. The ideal meatball is tender and moist, full of intense and layered flavor. And while a meatball really is one of the simplest dishes to prepare, it requires a delicate hand and a little dose of patience. 


This month, Bon Appetit named meatballs their "Dish of the Year". I'm sure the recession had a hand in the resurrection of the meatball on restaurant menus and in many home kitchens this year. Affordable, delicious and homey - what more could you ask for? Though I intend to make all five featured recipes, their Mexican inspired  Poblano Albóndigas with Ancho Chile Soup immediately called out to me. I am infatuated with Mexican soups, with their heady aromas, earthly spice and kiss of heat from chile's. So on a particularly cold Floridian day I set out to make this  soup, certain that it would knock the chill right out of me. Within an hour and a half the soup was on the table and I eagerly tucked in. The chile flavor was strong up front with a background hint of lime, but to my disappointment the flavors didn't linger on the palate. I was surprised to find that the soup didn't really pack a punch - something that you'd expect from several tablespoons of ancho chile powder, cumin and Mexican oregano. The meatballs were succulent and tender, with a much more balanced flavor and saved the soup from being a bland failure. The crisp tortilla strips provided a nice contrast in texture even as they softened. I reluctantly graded this recipe a B as I had wanted it to be so much more. After a night in the fridge, I warmed up the soup for lunch the next day and was delighted to find the soup I was expecting in the first place. The flavors were balanced as they'd had a chance to meld and develop overnight, which in my opinion is where this recipe went wrong. The ingredients and method are all there, but the timing is off. The recipe says the soup is ready in about 20 minutes once you add the meatballs to the broth and they are cooked through. While the soup is "ready" in 20 minutes, you're doing yourself a disservice to ladle it up right away. I would recommend leaving the soup on low heat for at least another hour, preferably more, in order to allow the flavors to meld. The meatballs will have time to flavor the broth and the chile and spices will mellow and become one with the soup. If given time, this is a soup to add to your regular rotation.


Bon Appetit!







Poblano Albóndigas with Ancho Chile Soup - Bon Appetit, January 2010


Meatballs:

  • 2 large fresh poblano chiles (9 to 10 ounces total)
  • 1 pound ground beef (15% fat)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated zucchini
  • 1/4 cup finely grated onion
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt


Soup:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, coarsely grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons pure ancho chile powder or pasilla chile powder* (do not use blended chile powder)
  • 9 cups low-salt beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated zucchini
  • 1/4 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lime juice


Toppings:
  • tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
  • 4 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

  • Make Meatballs:

    Line large rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Char chiles over direct flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag and steam 10 minutes. Stem, seed, and peel chiles, then chop finely (should yield about 3/4 cup).



    Place chiles in large bowl. Gently mix in beef and all remaining ingredients. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange meatballs on sheet.

  • Make Soup:

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion with any juices and garlic. Sauté until onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add chile powder and cumin; stir 1 minute. Add broth and oregano; bring to rolling boil. Reduce heat to very low, just below bare simmer, and cook 10 minutes.


  • Stir zucchini and rice into broth. Increase heat to medium and drop in meatballs, 1 at a time. Return soup to simmer. Cover and cook gently until meatballs and rice are cooked through, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat to avoid boiling, about 20 minutes. Add 1/4 cup cilantro and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season soup with salt and add more lime juice by teaspoonfuls, if desired.

    Toppings: 

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat 1 minute. Add half of tortilla strips. Cook until crisp, gently separating strips with tongs, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer strips to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips, adding more oil if needed.


  • Ladle soup and meatballs into bowls. Top with tortilla strips and cilantro.

    Grades:

Difficulty - Easy
Flavor - B as written, A if given more time for flavors to meld.


Notes:
  • After tasting the recipe as written, I did end up adding about 1 more tablespoon of lime juice as I found it was lost otherwise.
  • This soup would also be delicious with some diced avocado added when served. 




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