I was hired by a client recently to prepare a surprise romantic dinner for his wife in honor of their 5th anniversary. During the initial consultation, I learned that she was a huge fan of Mexican cuisine especially fajitas and spicy dishes, Italian Wedding (or Meatball) soup, chicken, cheesecake, and white Sangria. I also found out that he did not drink alcohol, although she did. The dinner was to be 5 courses so I needed to prepare a menu that included the following courses: appetizer, soup, intermezzo, main, and dessert.
For the appetizer, I selected a simple trio of mini grilled fajitas: one pork, one chicken, and one beef along with sauteed peppers and onions and poblano crema (a spicy Mexican sour cream), guacamole and salsa (both homemade). I knew I wanted to do a sorbet for the intermezzo and eventually chose to do a homemade Mango sorbet which went well with the theme. The main course was a spicy and bittersweet Mexican Mole Chicken served over pan-fried corn off the cob and black beans and rice. For dessert, I made a homemade cheesecake with a fruit salsa of strawberry, kiwi, and banana. Since she loved White Sangria I went with an recipe I had already saved and found a recipe for Mock Champagne for him.
For the soup course, I was a bit stumped until I began to research Italian Wedding soup and saw that its origins were Spanish. I also learned that Wedding soup was also called Meatball soup. Using these facts, I decided to do a take on the Italian Wedding (Meatball) soup and prepare a Albondigas Soup (Albondigas means “meatball”).
They absolutely LOVED the entire meal and the husband especially liked the soup! It was very good and definitely something I will add to my repertoire. The distinctive flavor comes from the fresh mint used in the meatballs and it can also be added directly into the soup itself depending on your tastes. Here’s the recipe so you can try it for yourself!
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 3 quarts of chicken stock or beef stock
- 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
- 1/2 lb of string beans, strings and ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1/3 cup of raw white rice
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/4 cup of chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 cup of chopped parsley
- 1 raw egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- A dash of cayenne (optional)
- 1 1/2 cup of frozen or fresh peas
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, crumbled, or 1 Tbsp fresh chopped oregano
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Possible substitutions and additions: gluten-free and/or low sodium stock, substitute ground turkey for the ground beef, fresh oregano or cilantro to replace the mint in the meatballs, spring peas in their pods instead of shucked peas, add chopped fresh zucchini or corn, add a couple extra tablespoons of chopped fresh mint directly into the soup.
Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed pot (5-qt) over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute more. Add stock and tomato sauce. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer. Add carrots and string beans.
Prepare the meatballs. Mix rice into meat, adding mint leaves and parsley, salt and pepper. Mix in raw egg. Form mixture into 1-inch meatballs.
Add the meatballs to the simmering soup, one at a time. Cover and let simmer for 1/2 hour. Add the peas towards the end of the 1/2 hour. Add a few pinches of oregano and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and a dash of cayenne (optional), to taste.
Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.
Check out the original recipe here.