Albondigas! The Mysterious Mexican Soup
By Tim H. Martin
Trout Quest Leads to Mysterious Soup.
I’d never even heard of Albondigas soup until I saw it on the appetizer menu at Ed’s Cantina in Estes Park, Colorado. This discovery came in the autumn of 2017 after three rugged days of fly fishing for greenback cutthroat trout — an endangered species found in the remote lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park.
This Alabama flatlander was content to rest his pregnant toe blisters in one of Ed’s cozy booths and replenish calories lost on the alpine trails with their hearty Colorado-Mex cuisine. Having hiked 34 miles — 107 floors of elevation gain in 72 hours, to be exact — I’d earned a blowout meal.
Being unfamiliar with Albondigas, I asked the waitress to educate me. With a proper Spanish accent, she said, “It’s pronounced Al-bone-dee-gus, which is Spanish for meatball. It’s a traditional Mexican comfort food, and ours is REALLY good.”
I ordered a large bowl to go with my fish tacos, and she wasn’t kidding. The mild heat of the spices and piping-hot meatballs warmed my frozen insides to the core, and I instantly knew Buckmasters fans would love this mysterious soup.
If it thaws frozen deer hunters like it did this weary trout fisherman, Albondigas won’t remain a mystery for long.
America’s Fish: The Greenback Cutthroat Trout
Greenbacks were declared extinct around 1930, but rediscovered in 1957. Maybe that’s why I think they’re so special and a fish I must chase. Or maybe it’s because the physical difficulty of getting to these gems means few anglers will ever catch one.
I believe this fiery little trout is the world’s most beautiful freshwater fish. Catching one means strenuous miles of alpine hiking — usually above 10,000 feet — into remote, tucked-away places.
The greenback’s ongoing recovery to fishable populations is remarkable. In 1994, it became Colorado’s official State Fish, although I believe the case can be made for this truly native species to be declared America’s Fish.
2 lbs. lean ground beef or venison
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup crushed soda crackers or commercial bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic salt
salt and pepper, to taste
Remaining Soup Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups water
1 cup your favorite salsa
2 cups onion, chopped
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups celery, sliced
4 cups new potatoes, skin on, small dice
2 cups carrots, 1/2-inch slices
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained well
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Fresh cilantro and lime slices for garnish
*Other possible ingredients: corn, diced squash, zucchini and/or tomatoes
Prepare all chopped items while the rice is cooking. When the rice is done, mix all meatball ingredients, then use an ice cream scoop to create golf ball-sized meatballs.
In a soup pot, heat butter and olive oil on medium-high, then add all diced vegetables and sauté until onions, garlic and celery are tender. Add water, salsa, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes or until carrots and potatoes are softened.
Add meatballs and black beans, then simmer an additional 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow 15 to 20 minutes for soup to cool before serving in bowls. Garnish with fresh cilantro and lime slices.
– Photos Courtesy of Tim H. Martin