Latin Cuisine: Sopa de Albóndigas de Pollo (Chicken Meatball Soup)

Latin Cuisine

Regional cuisine from Central and South America.


Once you go Latin... [Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

I grew up having a lot of soup. When I lived in Mexico City I was exposed to multi-course dining at home. It wasn't necessarily fancy (though I did have a friend who had peacocks and rottweilers coexisting on her expansive manicured lawn), just a different way of serving. At home, main dishes and sides were presented at the same time, and you simply spooned everything onto your plate with no attention paid to edges of food touching, unless you were an oddball. My Mexican friends had food brought out in stages, and soup always came first. There was consommé, consommé with fine broken noodles, and an endless array of Crayola-colored vegetable soups, laced with cream and garnished with delicate herbs. I remember there always being chill in the weather by the time school let out, and it was a comfort to sit before a steamy, brothy, velvety pool.

Why we eat soup in Nicaragua, however, where it is always either hot-and-dry or hot-and-wet, defies any explanation. Masochists, I say, because soups abound and are served year-round: Tripe! Chicken and vegetable! Cheese! She-crab! Oxtail, ¡pero, por Dios! Having soup at my grandmother's house was extra-torturous: Lunch was served well after the cathedral bells had proclaimed noon, by which time guests were starving and languishing under the oppressive heat, swaying helplessly to-and-fro on rocking chairs.

This tradition of soup in a too-warm climate is bizarre, but now that I've packed away my summer clothes and sleep with the windows wide open, I'm grateful for the recipes. Sopa de albóndigas de pollo—chicken-meatball soup—is one of my favorites. I've never subscribed to American chicken noodle soup because it's a pale, lackluster version of ours, it always being more assertive, punctuated with pungent culantro, spearmint, and chunks of hearty root vegetables like yucca and taro.

Sopa de albóndigas is yet another example of chicken soup gone bold and buxom. A whole chicken is slowly simmered with onion, green bell pepper, garlic, culantro, and mint to build a rich and vibrant broth. The chicken is shredded and stirred into corn masa flavored with sautéed aromatics and rust-colored achiote, then shaped into balls that are simmered in broth. Try it next time you're looking for a little something more than slippery noodles in your soup.

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