Albondigas, a traditional dish from Puebla, is complex comfort food: the pork meatballs are stuffed with hard-boiled egg, and simmered in an earthy, chile-tomato sauce, sweetened by plantains, made subtly smoky by chipotles, and given a deep delicious red color by the guajillo chiles. As Bonita’s chef Juventino Avilla wrote in an email, “There is no definitive way of making Albondigas,” so feel free to experiment, adding more or less tomatoes and chiles as you see fit, and adjusting the sauce’s thickness. The only impossible task is finding dried avocado leaves, though dried or fresh bay leaves will do (and quite honestly, I used oregano and no one knew). If you can find fresh tomatoes, quarter and broil those along with the onions, as all of the ingredients are traditionally toasted in an earthenware dish — hence all the broiling and toasting here. Finally, if you can’t bear the thought of lard (I used the leaf lard from Flying Pigs Farm at the Prospect Park Farmers Market), substitute canola oil.
You may want to try this first at Bonita next week (Jan. 21-27), when Albondigas will be featured as a special, to taste how the pros do it.
1/2 lb. Ground Beef
1/2 lb. Ground Pork
2 minced dried Avocado or Bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon toasted Cumin seeds
1/2 cup Milk
2 cloves Garlic, minced
a slice of stale bread, crumbled
1/2 cup cooked white rice
2 hardboiled Eggs, diced and set aside
Mix everything except for the cooked egg, making sure to not heat the meat too much. Form a small patty in your palm, place some diced, cooked egg in the center, then close to make a round meatball. Set aside and repeat.
2-5 Dried Chipotles, soaked in hot water
3-5 Dried Guajillo chiles, boiled for 10 minutes
4 to 6 cups Canned diced or whole tomatoes (if fresh, quarter and broil with onions)
3 medium Onions, quartered
3 cloves Garlic, toasted in skillet
1 tsp. Toasted whole cumin seeds
1 Ripe, fried plantain (skin should be black)
Lard as needed
Salt to taste
2 sprigs each oregano and thyme, or 1 tsp. each dried
Bring a pot of water to boil, then pour a bit into a bowl with the dried chipotles, enough to cover. Let soak while you boil the guajillos. After 10 minutes, remove both chiles and reserve liquid. Broil the onions about 5 minutes, check, turn the browned pieces and broil a few minutes more. Remove. Toast the garlic and cumin together in a dry pan about 2-3 minutes, then turn off heat. Slice the plantain into medallions and brown on both sides in a large pan, about 3-5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the herbs, sauté about 2-3 minutes, then puree in a processor until smooth.
Pan-fry the meatballs, then place in a pot with the sauce and herb bouquet and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding reserved chile soaking liquid if you like, to thin the sauce. Serve with rice and tortillas.