Pumpkin Seed Albóndigas
Salted pumpkin seeds, toasted shell-on, are a super-popular snack all around Mexico. They form the base of pipián, a minimalist, savory mole sauce famous in states like Puebla, and they are an indispensable ingredient in Yucatán’s famous “pumpkin seed guacamole” called sikil pak. While they aren’t the most celebrated Mexican ingredient, they certainly deserve to be, especially when you taste these albóndigas (that’s Spanish for meatballs) made from ground pumpkin seeds, cooked rice, and tomatillos.We first sampled these vegetarian albóndigas at Planeta Vegetariano, a hidden-away, old-school vegetarian buffet that's been open for a couple of decades now in Puerto Vallarta, my wife Paola's hometown. This dish is a weekly staple for its loyal customers—it’s served every single Tuesday. We didn't know what to think about a meatless meatball, but at first bite, we fell instantly in love with the surprisingly meaty texture and satisfying flavor. They were so delicious and so memorable that one night Paola found herself thinking, why don't we try to make these at home?In Mexico, albóndigas are traditionally served in a stew with vegetables, which is how I grew up eating them. The broth includes mint as an aromatic, and the actual meatballs are typically made of ground beef, chicken, or pork, with rice to hold them together. (In coastal parts of Mexico, albóndigas tend to be much more delicate and made of fish or shrimp.) My mother would make a steamy one-pot meal of albóndigas in broth to eat on cold days. It easily fed the whole family, and we still had leftovers.These albóndigas are every bit as comforting, but don’t have a bit of ground meat in them. The ground toasted pumpkin seeds impart flavor and aroma, so the “meatballs” actually kind of smell like freshly crisped chicharrones. How?! That's the magic of this rich, savory seed. Tomatillos keep the albondigas moist and add an enticing flavor while the tomato broth (whether you go with vegetable or chicken stock) adds a layer of umami goodness. But perhaps the best part of this whole dish is how it comes together so quickly with things that you may already have in your pantry, and how many times it will feed you.We like to eat a bowl of these meatballs alongside some homemade or just really good-quality corn tortillas, fresh guacamole (the baller version without tomato fillers, just minced red onion, lime juice, and cilantro), and if you’re really, really hungry, some quesadillas. They make fantastic leftovers: albondigas taste even better the next day—and even tastier the day after that. (If you have any left, that is.)
Moroccan Chickpea, Carrot, and Spinach Soup
Long ago I worked as the lunch cook at a lively little café in Montpelier, Vermont, and every day meant coming up with a new soup du jour. I was relatively green and had no formal training, and I struggled to continually invent new combinations. At night, I would scour my meager cookbook collection for recipes I could master (this was long before Google), and the next morning I'd do my best to interpret these into something our customers might enjoy. Looking back, I can't say that every soup was a winner—not by a long shot—but my soups did improve over time, especially once I learned that the best way to create anything truly tasty was to start with a single good idea and build from there. The starting point might be an ingredient or flavoring, and then it's a matter of selecting complementary ingredients to generate complexity of flavor without it becoming a muddle. Through trial and error, my early soup experiments taught me that carefully handling a few well-chosen ingredients always produces a better result than assembling a thoughtless jumble. I also learned to taste my raw ingredients before adding them, and then to taste at every step along the way in order to best steer my cooking toward deliciousness. This process of thoughtfully tasting and tinkering is how this very recipe came to be—and it's the approach I still use to get it right.The starting point here are the chickpeas (either canned or home-cooked), and whenever I make this soup, I start by tasting a few to remind me of their nutty, slightly sweet taste and almost creamy texture. I also sample the liquid from the can (or the bean cooking liquid, if I had time to cook them from scratch). The liquid (the stuff in the can is called aquafaba and is sometimes used as a vegan egg white substitute) should be slightly viscous with a mild bean taste. I add it to the soup to provide light body and to underscore the bean flavor. For the balance of liquid, I use plain water, because it gives the soup a certain lightness and I like the way it lets the ingredients shine bright. If you want to make a deeper, heartier soup, you could certainly swap in broth (vegetable or chicken would be my first choice).Once I have the taste of chickpeas fresh in my mind, I envision the round-up of flavorings that will highlight this humble legume without overpowering. Gently sautéed onions add sweetness and a silky texture. Carrots provide heft, more sweetness, and their cheerful orange color complements the buff tones of the beans. For seasoning, a heady mixture of garlic, cumin, ginger, turmeric, and cayenne pays homage to the cuisines of North Africa where chickpeas prevail. And finally, tender spinach leaves bring a welcome jolt of green and their earthy minerality balances the sweet.Every time I make this soup, I'm amazed at how the simple lineup of ingredients can come together to produce such a satisfying and gorgeous soup. I also marvel at the transformation that happens in the 30 minutes it takes for the chickpeas to become silky and tender. When you make this at home—and I hope you do—I urge you to keep a tasting spoon nearby to sample the soup every step along the way. It's a great lesson in building and layering flavor, and a reminder of how a good pot of soup becomes much more than the sum of its parts.
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Garlicky Coconut Soup
This silky, garlicky soup from chef Jehangir Mehta of NYC restaurant Graffiti Earth is a delicious, no-waste recipe that allows you to use up all of those leftover vegetable scraps. Mehta throws all of his carrot peels, herb or mushroom stems and onion skins in a plastic bag in his fridge and then uses it to make a rich vegetarian stock at the end of the week. He then turns that stock into this simple soup, which has a different flavor every time he makes it, based on what scraps he accumulated that week. Slideshow: More Soup Recipes
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Healthy and hearty vegetable soups make for great appetizers and main courses. Here is a collection of Food & Wine’s best vegetable soups that are easy to make, delicious and are great year-round. From smoky tomato to creamy broccoli, these stellar vegetable soups are some of our favorites.