In honor of Hispanic/Latino/a/e/x Heritage Month, Yvonne Padilla reflects on her grandmother's culinary legacy and the deep-rooted connections food establishes within families. Through her memories, Yvonne shares a cherished recipe for Caldo de Albondigas, highlighting the rich tapestry of love and history in traditional Mexican cuisine.
My earliest memories of food centered around sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen. At any given time, corn tortillas were being heated on a comal, and the ingredients for salsa were simmering in a small pot on the stove. I would get bites of a homemade tortilla with mantequilla, or a spoon of caldo de pollo to taste before dinner.
My grandmother spent most of her time in the kitchen; cooking for her family was an act of love. Every dish was served to me with a smile and a kiss on the top of my forehead. I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that I was loved unconditionally. This was never more apparent than when she would wait every morning for me to wake up, only to ask, “What would you like for breakfast mijita?” In the afternoon I was asked for my lunch order and in the evening, I could ask for whatever I wanted for dinner. Spoiled you might ask? Absolutely. They never had a lot of money, didn’t have money set aside for retirement and would never own their own home. All my grandparents had to give me was their unconditional love and their food.
As I grew from toddler to school age child, adolescent and then teenager, my grandparents still made sure they had the foods and treats I loved when I came to visit. As a recipient of their love and attention, I needed nothing more than to spend time with them, sitting at the dining table and enjoying the dishes my grandmother prepared for me. What I would give now to sit at that table one more time with them. I look back now with an air of regret, that I never wrote down her recipes nor inherited her love of cooking.
I have recently had an opportunity to start researching my family ancestry, investigating the names of my great great-grandparents, their occupations and places of birth. I have started to learn more about the beautiful and rich culinary history of the Mexican cuisine. Did you know that tomatoes, all chiles, avocados, squash, legumes, vanilla, corn, chia seeds, amaranth, vanilla and cacao (chocolate) are all native to Mexico? Can you imagine a world without these amazing foods?
Did you also know that in 2010 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) officially recognized Mexican cuisine as a cultural heritage? The entire cornucopia of foods and dishes of Mexico is represented on a list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I wonder what my grandparents would have thought to know the dishes and foods they loved, that were brought with them from Mexico to this country, were considered so valuable to all of humanity. I could almost imagine a small smirk on my grandmother’s face, as a response. “Of course, mi nina,” she would say, “I would only cook the best food for you.”
Recently, I decided to cook Caldo de Albondigas, known as Mexican meatball soup. While I never have claimed to enjoy
cooking or to be a good cook, I decided to embark on this journey for one small reason. My teenage daughter in her senior year of high school is also working part time, and if she is lucky, gets to have one meal a week with us. She desperately misses her dad’s homecooked meals. She also loves soup more than anything else in the world. So, what is a mother to do? Make her soup, so when she gets home from school, she can have a homecooked meal before she rushes off to work.
I found myself sitting in my kitchen for a two-hour ordeal of simultaneously watching a YouTube video, locating the needed ingredients, rewinding OFTEN, and producing an aromatic and delicious Caldo de Albondigas. When I was done, I walked away with a greater appreciation of my husband and his ability to literally produce an amazing meal almost every night, and an immense sense of satisfaction. Then I waited for my daughter to come home.
As I sat there waiting for her to come home, I started to think about my grandmother. About how much she loved me and demonstrated that through her food. I thought about my husband who cooks for us almost every night, without hesitation. I thought about my mother who bakes desserts and breads and stops by regularly to drop something off for us to enjoy. All of these are acts of love. Then I realized that I, too, in my attempt to comfort my daughter and acknowledge how hard she is working, made her soup. I made her soup because creating and sharing food is an act of love and language all its own.
In honor of Hispanic/Latino/a/e/x Heritage Month, you can try this recipe altered slightly for personal taste.
Albondigas (Mexican meatball soup)
2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 cup cooked white or brown rice
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 white onion, peeled and diced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
For tomato broth:
5 roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 white onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 quart low-sodium chicken (or turkey) broth
1 to 2 chopped chipotle peppers in adobo
3 medium-size potatoes; peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 calabacitas (Mexican chayote, zucchini or other squash), diced
2 husked ears corn, each cut into thirds
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
To make meatballs, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and, using your clean hands, mix gently to blend rice, egg onion, chipotle and spices into meat. Pinch off pieces of meat mixture and form into 1-inch-diameter meatballs, rolling each between your clean palms and transferring to a platter or baking tray.
To make broth, combine in a large stockpot, the tomatoes, diced onion, minced garlic, broth, chipotle, peppers, diced potatoes, carrots and cumin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a medium simmer and drop meatballs into pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the diced squash and corn on the cob to pot. Cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped cilantro.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.