In my collection of cookbooks, I have a little shelf of old cookbooks from when I was a young bride (the first time). This shelf includes a 1960s version of The Joy of Cooking, Cook My Darling Daughter by Mildred O. Knopf from my mother, a few cookbook compilations by women's clubs that my mother belonged to, and the book, The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, published in 1965. From what I understand, there are several iterations of this book with updates on the market, but mine is a first edition.
This book was given to me by my future mother-in-law. Not Mr. Kitchen's mother, who was Irish, but the mother of husband 1.0, whom I met in college. His mother was born and raised in northern Mexico, and she was very traditional. She gave me this book so that I would be able to make traditional Mexican food for her son.
While the marriage was very short-lived (at 22, I clearly lacked the necessary maturity), I still hung onto and treasured the cookbook. It was written by a British food writer who began her discovery of Mexican food when her husband, a Mexican UN Secretariat official, took a position in Mexico City with the United Nations Information Center.
How interesting that my Mexican mother-in-law would give this American girl a Mexican cookbook written by a British food writer so that her son would get served the Mexican food he knew and loved. Pretty ironic, right?
The author of the book reports that, at the time, most Mexican señoras she met did not actually cook themselves, but relied on household help to do the cooking. In 1965 there was not a lot of available literature on the art of Mexican cooking, so, because she wanted to explore and cook the food of Mexico, she relied on street vendors to give her cooking lessons.
One of my favorite quotes: "The fact that I cooked at all was frowned on, until my cook-cum-maid reported to my mother-in-law that I was, after all, a respectable ama de casa (Spanish elegant for housewife). She said I couldn't really cook; I only pretended to be able to; that I looked everything up in a book, and what real cook would do that?"
There are 340 recipes in the book, as well as explanations of basic Mexican ingredients and cooking methods. She reports that the recipes in her book are authentic, and not adapted to American tastes or ingredients. The book is divided into 14 chapters covering ingredients, the corn kitchen, soup, rice and pastas, sauces, eggs, fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, salads, desserts, and drinks. She also lists sources for finding ingredients and equipment for preparing these dishes.
Another favorite passage of mine is how she begins her section on soups. She writes, "Mexican men take soup seriously. They tend to feel deprived if a soupless meal is served at midday." I also love the quote from James Beard on the jacket, "A book of delicious variations on what is really a little-known theme." Times have definitely changed.
I'm sure that the food in Mexico, like food throughout the world, has evolved and changed over time, but it was wonderful to dip back into this 50-year-old cookbook.
This month, the Soup Saturday group, created by Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm, is presenting soups with a Mexican theme. I had originally planned to make posole for this event, but when I stumbled across this cookbook while organizing my bookshelves, I had to make this soup.
After the recipe, be sure to check out the rest of the Mexican themed soups recipes.
Mexican Meatball Soup Recipe
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 small white onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 2 quarts beef stock
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 recipe albóndigas plus one cup of the cooking liquid from the meatballs
- Diced red bell peppers and parsley or cilantro
For the meatballs:
- 2 slices white bread
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound ground veal or beef
- 1/2 pound ground lamb
- l large onion, minced
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups meat stock
- 2 cups tomato juice
- 1 can chipotles in adobo, chopped
To make the soup:
- Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and sauté the onion until tender but not browned. Add the garlic, tomato puree, diced tomatoes, and beef stock to the pan and simmer, uncovered, for for 30 minutes.
- Add the meatballs and one cup of the meatball cooking liquid and simmer for five to ten minutes, until the meatballs are fully heated.
- Garnish with red bell peppers and parsley or cilantro
To make the meatballs:
- Soak the bread in milk, and squeeze dry just before using.
- Mix the meats, onion, bread, eggs, and salt and pepper thoroughly, and form the mixture into 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls.
- Combine the stock and tomato juice, add the chopped chiles, and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs, a few at a time, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 40 minutes. Remove the meatballs from the liquid with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl with one cup of the cooking liquid. You can refrigerate them for later, or make the soup immediately.
- The leftover cooking liquid can be saved and frozen for soups and sauces.