Mexican Sauce for Albondigas Tacos

20200310_124125It’s not often you can make a dish at home that tastes like it could have come from a restaurant. Complex flavors are hard to replicate, even with the tastiest homemade dishes. But this is one of those recipes that really does taste like it came from a professional kitchen.

It does take a long time to make, but it requires no special skills, and it’s worth it if you have an evening to devote to cooking. It will be the most special meatball tacos you’ve eaten in a while.

The recipe is adapted from Aaron Sanchez in the Food Network magazine. He provided his own recipe for the meatballs (the albondigas), but I used my own from the Sopa de Albondigas recipe. The only change I would make is replacing the rice in those meatballs with an equivalent amount of breadcrumbs, corn flour, or a mixture of the two. Bake the meatballs according to the recipe, then boil them for a further 10 minutes to fully cook them. You can make the albondigas while the sauce simmers.

Serve in warmed flour tortillas with crumbled queso fresco cheese and chopped cilantro (fresh coriander).

Serves 4-5

1 head of garlic
2 small/1 large plum tomato
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt
1/2 medium onion, quartered
1 Tbsp. chopped canned chipotles in adobo sauce, or substitute 1 Tbsp. chipotle salsa
1 Tbsp. shortening
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp. adobo seasoning
Freshly ground pepper

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat to 450F/230C degrees. Cut off the top of the head of garlic, then wrap in foil. Toss the tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzled with 1/2 Tbsp. oil and a pinch of salt. Toss the onion with the remaining olive oil on another baking sheet.

Roast the garlic, tomatoes, and onions, switching the pans halfway through, until the vegetables have softened and are browned in spots, about 45 minutes. (Remove any vegetables early if they’re getting too charred.)

Have a food processor ready. When the vegetables are done, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins. Put half of them in the food processor, save two cloves for the albondigas, and save the rest for another use. Add the tomatoes, onion, and chipotles (or chipotle salsa) and puree, scraping down the sides as needed.

Reduce the oven temperature to 400F/200C degrees for the albondigas.

Melt the shortening in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the roasted vegetable puree and cook until reduced by half, about 8-10 minutes. Pour in the stock, reduce heat to medium, and cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and stir until melted, then add the adobo with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and keep warm while making the meatballs.

Serve with meatballs in slightly warmed flour tortillas, topped with the crumbled queso fresco and chopped cilantro.

Tomatillo Salsa

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The green tomatillo salsa at Moe’s is my favorite, and for a long time I’d wanted to try making my own. The guys at Moe’s said it was easy and told me the ingredients but I didn’t think there was any way I could come close. I’d never used tomatillos, for starters.

It was a quick one-paragraph recipe from the Food Network that inspired me to try, and it was not only a success — that actually tasted like the Moe’s version — but it is one of my favorite dishes I’ve ever made. Absolutely delicious and addicting.

If you’ve never used fresh tomatillos before, do give it a try — I can tell you it’s easy and you canNOT beat the taste. The kind in jars simply does not compare. And you’ll feel good having made your own.

1 lb. tomatillos, husked and washed
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 jalapeno (optional)
1 cup cilantro leaves (fresh coriander)
Juice of 1 lime

Broil tomatillos, garlic cloves, and whole jalapeño (if using) until charred and tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Let cool slightly; peel the garlic and remove the stem and skin from the jalapeño. Cut the tomatillos in quarters and puree them (skin on) with the garlic and jalapeño in a food processor with 1 cup fresh cilantro and the juice of 1 lime. Season with salt.

Five-Spice Chinese Marinade

I made this with some chicken tonight and everyone loved it. It was easy, fragrant, and delicious, bite after bite.

I adapted the recipe from one I found at Epicurious.

2/3 cup minced green onions
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup dry Sherry
2 Tbsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl and add sliced chicken (or beef). Cover and refrigerate, marinating between one and three hours before cooking.

When ready to cook, heat a small amount of oil in a pan. Remove the chicken from the marinade with a slotted spoon and fry over medium heat until cooked through. At that point, you can serve it straight over white rice or Asian noodles, or add it to vegetables that you stir-fry until warmed through.

Pasta con Salsa di Pignoli

This is an easy, no-cook, creamy sauce for pasta that works perfectly for these hot summer nights. The pine nuts (pignoli) add some crunch and protein. You can use either fat-free or regular dairy ingredients, and you can serve it atop any kind of pasta you like — although I favor linguine for this one.

The raw garlic is strong, so leave it out if it’s too much for you, but I personally loved the kick it added to the sauce.

Serves 3

300g (10.5 oz.) linguine
1/2 cup milk
170g (6 oz.) cottage cheese
1 large clove garlic, minced
6 Tbsp. pine nuts, plus extra for garnish
Dried oregano
Salt
Black pepper

Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Put the rest of the ingredients in a blender and mix until combined.

Cook the linguine in the water. When it’s done, drain it, then quickly whiz the sauce ingredients in the blender again. Arrange the pasta on plates and pour the sauce on top. Sprinkle a small handful of pine nuts on top, along with some more oregano. Serve immediately.

Asian Stir-Fry Sauce

The recipe for a good, basic stir-fry sauce has eluded me for a while, but I have finally found one I like. It takes just a couple of minutes to make and has just what I want in a sauce — something that clings to the ingredients and gives it a spicy, salty, and slightly sweet Asian flavor.

This is perfect for those bags of pre-cut stir-fry vegetables you see in the produce aisle of the supermarket. Add bean sprouts, edamame beans, or tofu for a great vegetarian meal, then serve it all on top of rice or rice noodles. It is for me the perfect weekday meal — quick and nutritious, with enough for leftovers (to save time the next day!).

I adapted the recipe from one I found at about.com.

Serves 4

2/3 cup chicken stock
5 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. agave syrup (you can substitute honey)
Something for heat — whether minced red chili, a dash of chili sauce, or a sprinkling of cayenne pepper
4 tsp. cornstarch (cornflour) dissolved in 1/2 cup water
4 cloves garlic, minced

Place the first five ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When it begins to bubble, reduce the heat slightly and add the cornstarch mixture and garlic. Stir until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and adjust the flavors as needed.

How to use it:
Make the sauce as you cook the rice and before you start cooking the vegetables. When you’re ready, stir-fry the vegetables in a little oil. When the pan becomes dry, add a few spoonfuls of the sauce and stir to coat the vegetables. Keep cooking until the vegetables have softened but still retain some crispness. Add the remaining sauce and mix until everything is coated. Serve immediately over rice.