This soup is from a class I taught at Bon Vivant Cooking School in 1998.
Mexicans are great eaters of soup. A sopa caldosa or a 'watery' soup is the first component in a four-course quotidian family meal. The sopa caldosa is followed by a sopa seca, or 'dry' soup, which can be a pasta dish or rice. Next comes the main dish and beans, then a salad and lastly, dessert. In Mexico, where most cooking is done on top of the stove, it is no wonder that cooks have developed a myriad of soups to take advantage of the country's abundance of seafood, produce, chiles, herbs and meats.
My cousin, Natividad, lives in a farming community in Mexicali, B.C., called "Ejido Saltillo". These ejidos, (farming cooperatives) in the Imperial Valley are the legacy of President Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico's president in the 1930's.
He singlehandedly redistributed 17.7 million hectares to unemployed workers and poor people between 1935 and 1940. Nati's father, my mother's brother, Rafael, (below here with Nati in the early 50s)
Nati has an abundance of local foods available to her: luscious, huge papayas growing in her kitchen garden, emerald green and fragrant limes from a tree out in the middle of their land; fresh eggs from her hens; and superb fish from the Gulf of California which is only about an hour away.
One day while we were returning from La Cachanilla, Mexicali's Super Mall, and where, by the way, one can buy the best Nachos in the world, she rattled off a bunch of recipes, one of which was a fish ball soup. I had only eaten and heard of beef or pork meatball soups - never fish! I couldn't wait to get home and try it out. At first I tried it with a firm rockfish, and results were sublime. Next I tried with local Pacific Northwest wild salmon and the results were amazing. Either way, rockfish or salmon, this is a wonderfully light and delicate soup.
I made this soup last week with wild, albeit, previously frozen, Sockeye salmon, bought for $9.99 a pound -- where else? -- Uwajimaya in Seattle's International District. Better wild and frozen than fresh and farm-raised. I prefer to pay premium prices for fresh and wild when I intend to grill salmon. The meatballs turned out well.
1.5 lb Salmon, finely minced
2 Tbs Raw Arborio rice
1 Tbs Mint leaves, chiffonaded
1 Large egg
3 Tbs Onion, minced
1 tsp Garlic, minced
Salt to taste
2 Tbs Olive oil
1/2 Onion, minced
2 tsp Minced garlic
1 Stalk celery, minced
1 Bell pepper, finely chopped
4 c Water
2 c Clam juice or fish stock
2 c Diced tomatoes (canned)
Place all of the ingredients for the albóndigas in a bowl and thoroughly mix with your hands. Take a tiny portion and fry it in a small saute pan. Taste for seasoning and adjust. With a small scoop, gather a portion of the salmon mixture and form it into a small ball and set aside on a platter. After forming the rest of the balls, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to drop them into the soup.
Over medium-high heat, saute the onion until it is translucent and add the garlic. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the celery, bell pepper and the tomatoes. Saute this mixture until the flavors meld and the liquid from the tomatoes starts to reduce. Set aside. In a medium-sized deep pot, bring the clam juice and the water to a furious boil. One by one, gently, drop each albóndiga into the water, adjusting the heat and at times withholding a fish ball in order to maintain the water at a lively boil. When all the fish balls have been added to the water, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently for 15 minutes - long enough to cook the rice. Add the tomato/celery/bell pepper mixture and cook for about 5 minutes more. Taste for salt.