Could albondigas soup actually be of Arabic origin?

"Albondigas," Spanish for meatballs, comes from the Arabic word “al-bunduq,” meaning hazelnut -- evidently a reference to the size and shape of the small, round meatballs. Tradition has it that the Arabs brought a version of this dish to Spain, and it eventually became popular in kitchens in Mexico and Latin America. Mint, which is often found in Mexican versions of these meatballs, adds to the intrigue, suggesting that the origin of these meatballs may indeed be of Middle-eastern origin. What better wine could there be to pair with this dish, than a locally grown and produced Spanish varietal?

Albondigas (Meatball Soup)

Meatballs

1/2 lb. lean ground beef

1/2 lb. lean ground pork

1 medium onion; minced

1 Tbsp. fresh mint, minced (or 1 tsp. dried)

1 egg; slightly beaten

1/2 tsp. salt

Cumin to taste

3 Tbsp. uncooked rice

Broth

6 c. chicken stock

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

16 oz. can diced tomatoes

2 carrots, sliced

1 zucchini, chopped

2 potatoes, cubed

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

Salt to taste

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For garnish:

Fresh salsa

Sour cream

Chopped cilantro

Fried tortilla strips

Avocados, cubed

Place all the ingredients for the meatballs in a bowl, mix together thoroughly. Form small meatballs. Moisten your hands frequently with cold water to prevent the meat from sticking. I like to use a large melon baller to form the meatballs.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Slowly add the meatballs and return to a second boil; skim if necessary. Reduce heat; add onions, garlic and diced tomatoes with their juice. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add carrots, zucchini, potatoes and oregano. Cover and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Check for seasoning and salt if necessary.

Garnish with fresh salsa, sour cream, chopped cilantro, fried tortilla strips and avocado cubes.

Pair this soup with Martian Ranch and Vineyard’s 2014 Santa Barbara County Gravitas Tempranillo. Tempranillo is a black grape variety widely grown to make full-bodied red wines in its native Spain. Its name is the diminutive of the Spanish temprano ("early"), a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most Spanish red grapes. Tempranillo has been grown on the Iberian Peninsula since the time of Phoenician (Middle Eastern) settlements. It is the main grape used in Rioja, and is often referred to as Spain's noble grape.

Martian’s descriptors include wet gravel, bay leaf and rose petals with hints of smoke and blueberry. Dark red fruit flavors are surrounded by firm tannins and a long finish. Gravitas was one of the Roman virtues. Along with pietas, dignitas and virtus, gravitas formed the cornerstone of a proper Roman’s expected conduct. This wine is so named because it connotes a certain substance and depth of personality.

Enjoy.

John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook, "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at sacredmeals@comcast.net.

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