It is winter out there all over again. Nature blessed us with about a week of 50F-degree temperatures and sunshine, and now we’re in the midst of a snow-blizzard. I keep looking at our snow-covered patio furniture in the backyard and dreaming of springtime…
Anyway, last night the cold and snowy weather inspired me to prepare a very hearty and comforting soup with what I had in the fridge and pantry (since road conditions have not permitted us to do much grocery-shopping this week). I had some lentils, some veggies, and a leftover half-pound of very expensive local/organic/grass-fed/whole-cow ground beef leftover that I needed to use wisely (trying to support our local farms).
Growing up, whenever my mother made meatball soup, she always added rice to the meat. Whether that was for texture purposes, or out of necessity – beef could be hard to come by in the USSR – I got used to meatballs made with rice, and so did my sister. The rice adds a different flavor and also makes the meatballs extra tender. Funny enough, when I make “Italian” meatballs (for subs or spaghetti), I don’t usually add rice to the meatballs. But when I make meatball soup, rice always seems like a good addition and my husband has really grown to like meatballs that way.
MEATBALL AND LENTIL SOUP
For the meatballs (this made about 15 smallish ones):
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 cup of long-grain white rice – uncooked
1/3 cup of panko breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon tomato paste
a teaspoon of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste – about half a teaspoon of each.
Mix all the ingredients together until well-incorporated.
(While you are assembling the meatball mixture, have about 1.5 cups of lentils cooking according to the instructions, for about a half an hour. I like to pre-cook my lentils, then add them to the soup, because I find they turn the cooking liquid an unappetizing brown color.)
For the soup:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot and one stalk of celery, sliced
1 large potato, chopped into bite-sized cubes
2 cups cooked lentils
4 cups of vegetable or beef broth
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
Handful of parsley leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste (depending on how salty the broth is that you are using)
Sauté the chopped onion in some olive oil until it starts to caramelize. Add the sliced carrot and celery, and let them “sweat” for a minute until you can smell them. Now add the broth, cooked lentils, and the remaining ingredients (except for garlic and parsley), and bring to a light boil. Turn the heat down to medium. Form the meatballs by grabbing a little bit of the beef/rice mixture and rolling between two hands into a ball about 1.5 inches in diameter. Drop one by one into the soup. Let cook at medium/low heat for another 20 minutes. Toward the end of cooking, add the chopped parsley and minced garlic (to keep the flavors fresh).
Serve hot with a slice of good French or Italian bread and butter.
Stay warm out there!