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AlbondigasMeatballs are meatballs are meatballs. Or so you might think - until you've had albondigas.

A Spanish chef taught me his secret: it's in the sauce. And not just because the sauce tastes good. Albondigas are actually prepared in very little sauce. At first this was hard for me to believe. If a sauce is good, I want to use a lot of it. But a very small amount of intensely flavorful sauce makes the difference. It creates an exchange of flavor between the meatballs and the sauce, making albondigas distinctively aromatic.

On our vacation to the Canary Islands we discovered a special variation. The chefs on Tenerife cook the albondigas in a pan with a few potatoes. Naturally, we've replaced the carb-rich potatoes with vegetables. Carrots, leeks, and celery root work well and will absorb the flavors of the meatballs and sauce.

A special feature of albondigas is that, when preparing them, you have to match the exact amount you make to the pan. The information below relates to our largest pan, about 30 cm in diameter. Additionally, the pan should have steep sides. If you use a smaller pan (e.g. 22 cm), you should use 500 g_(1 pound) ground beef instead of 750 g and leave out one of the eggs. It would be difficult to just cut the recipe in half.

Albondigas to serve 4:

750 gground beef
3cloves of garlic
1green bell pepper
1 tbsptomato paste
1small leek
1/4celery root
50 g_(2 oz)almond flour
25 g_(1 oz)gluten
1 dspsalt
200 ml_(1 cup)vegetable stock
Olive oil, thyme, parsley, marjoram, chili

First, cut the garlic, onions, and pepper very finely. Half of each should be set aside for the meatballs. Put the rest into a pan with plenty (!) of olive oil. Stir frequently over high heat until the onions begin to brown. Then add the diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, and tomato paste. Reduce the sauce uncovered over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Finally, season well with chili, salt, and pepper.

While the sauce is reducing, you can prepare the meatballs. Add the rest of the chopped onions, pepper, and garlic to the ground beef, along with 3 eggs, 1 dsp salt, the chopped spices, and a little gluten and almond flour to bind everything together. Knead well and then shape into balls about 1 inch in diameter. We got about 40 meatballs. Then cut up the carrots, celery root, and leek. The pieces should be about the size and thickness of quarters.

Albondigas.JPGOnce the sauce is reduced and has a nice uniform consistency, add the meatballs to the pan. (If you reduced the sauce too long and the oil is beginning to separate, add a little hot water and stir it well.) In between the meatballs, add the vegetables. Be careful and don't let the hot oil burn your fingers like I did - ow! The recipe will only work if the vegetables and meatballs are very close together in the pan, with almost no gaps. This raises the level of the sauce so that both meat and vegetables will be completely covered. Toss everything from time to time. This opens up new spaces. Now cover the pan and cook at low to medium heat for 15 minutes. When the carrots start to become soft the albondigas are also done.

The albondigas can almost be a complete meal by themselves. Of course, you could also eat them with a salad or other side dish. Since we bought a whole celery root, we also made delicious celery puree as a side dish.

To enjoy your albondigas the way they do in Spain, just set the whole pan on the table and eat communally. Everyone gets a fork and takes a bite here and there with beer or wine. The term "tapas" doesn't just mean a light appetizer; it describes the Spanish lifestyle. These albondigas may put you in the mood for a Spanish vacation!

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