Spanish albondigas (meatballs) – to the dance of life

As I celebrate the start of month 5 of freedom from the corporate world, I came across this quote by Spanish songwriter, Antonio Arias:  “Perfect contemplation means not knowing what you are looking at; he who doesn’t know his destination accomplishes the perfect journey.”

It made me think how your life is divided into seasons of experiences.  All of which teaches you something or might change the direction you’re moving in.  I would never have thought a year ago, as I walked into the Toffie Festival, that this year I would be part of a team working at the Secret Festival and that I would’ve finally made the move to explore and start living my food passion.  These experiences and direction changes I like to call; the dance of life.  We might all hear the same rhythm, but what choreography you’ll put to this rhythm is still all up to you.

The dance of life.
Pic courtesy of La Rosa Spanish Dance Theatre

(If you want to see the brilliant La Rosa Spanish Dance Theatre in action, they have a new a season coming up in Jan/Feb at Oude Libertas Amphitheatre and Artscape.)

Using dance as an analogy naturally makes me think of a very special moment that I experienced when on the Spain dancing trip I wrote about in the last post.  It was one of those moments where I almost felt like I was intruding or not allowed to have seen it.  A moment shared between two individuals, strangers to each other, but so poignant.

It was early in our trip and we went for a walk through the streets of Madrid.  As the Spaniards start evenings quite late, there are always people on the streets, either on their way to dinner or still shopping.

Late night shopping in Madrid.

As I walked along Plaza Santa Ana, I heard someone singing a Flamenco song.  Looking around I noticed it was a guy with the classic gypsy long-haired look, sitting on a bench.  You could see and hear he wasn’t merely singing the song.  His heart was in it.  As I stared at the gypsy, I saw a gentleman in a suit walking up to his bench.  And almost like a show of respect or appreciation, he did a quick couple of flamenco steps in front of the gypsy to the rhythm he was singing, acknowledged him and walked on.  This gentleman appreciated the rhythm, acknowledged it and choreographed his own steps.  Isn’t that what we should do with the rhythms that life sends our way?  Choreograph our own dance and have the guts to change the steps as the rhythm changes.

Thinking about Plaza Santa Ana, took me back to Casa Matute, a restaurant/bar on the plaza, where I had some albondigas one evening.  Which therefore makes complete sense that I should look at a nice albondigas recipe today, right?  Albondigas is plain and simple meatballs, but it’s made by the sauce you serve it in.  I chose to do a tomato, olive and yellow pepper sauce.

Albondigas in tomato sauce
Serves 4 or 6 as tapas
250g Pork mince
300g Beef mince
4 Garlic cloves (crushed)
35g/ 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
5ml/1 tsp Coriander, freshly ground*
7.5ml/1 ½ tsp Nutmeg, freshly ground*
7.5ml/1 ½ tsp Cumin, freshly ground*
1 pinch Cinnamon
1 Egg, lightly whisked
2.5ml Salt & pepper or to taste
30ml/2 tbsp Olive oil, for frying the meatballs
15ml/1 tbsp Olive oil, for frying
½ yellow pepper, seeded and cubed
2 Garlic cloves, crushed
125 ml White wine
410g (1 can) Good quality crushed canned tomatoes
125ml (½ cup) Chicken stock
10ml (2 tsp) Sweet paprika
100g Pitted green olives
Salt & pepper to taste

*  It is not necessary to grind the spices fresh, however the flavour is much stronger if you grind the whole spices before use, rather than use already ground ones.  These do become stale if it stands too long.
Place the two minces, garlic, breadcrumbs, coriander, nutmeg, cumin, cinnamon, egg, salt and pepper together in a large bowl.
Get your hands in there and mix everything together properly.
Take around 1 tbsp of meat mixture and shape this into a ball.
Place these balls on a plate that’s covered with some wax paper or lightly oiled so the meatballs don’t stick.
When done with all the meatballs, place this plate in the fridge for around 30 minutes to let the meat rest and the flavours infuse.

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick pan/pot, large enough to accommodate all the meatballs and the tomato sauce when you’re done with the dish.
When the oil is warm brown the meatballs.  You’ll have to do it in more than one batch, as you need to turn them and you want them to brown and not boil.
You can either turn them with tongs, or shake them in the pan so all the sides can brown.
Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add more olive oil if it’s required.
Then add your peppers and garlic and sauté over a medium to low heat.
Add the white wine and cook until the alcohol smell is gone.
Now add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and the chicken stock.
Stir well and add the paprika.
Bring this to a boil and turn down to simmer for around 5 – 10 minutes or until your peppers are soft.
Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.  Be careful to not add too much pepper, as you don’t want to overpower the subtle paprika flavour.
Add the meatballs back to the pan and add your pitted olives.
Bring back to the boil and turn down to simmer.
Let this simmer for 20 minutes or until your sauce has thickened a bit more.

Now dish up and serve with some nice big chunks of fresh bread.

Max, big boy dachsie


3 thoughts on “Spanish albondigas (meatballs) – to the dance of life

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