Mexican meatballs in chipotle-tomato sauce

Something spicy and thoroughly warming for chilly November evenings: moorish meatballs which have an extra vegetable bonus hidden inside. But this is no sneaky way of hiding vitamins, I found that they add extra moisture and lightness to the meatballs which I will try out soon in other combinations. Cooked in this – admittedly – quite spicy sauce make them a real winter warmer. You can reduce the amount of chiles chipotles en adobo in the sauce and start with one or two and adjust the amount to your taste.

We still remember the first time I brought a tin home from my favourite Mexican market in Sunnyvale, CA (former home of Atari) and eating them as pickles. Well, don’t if you are not a serious chili-eater. Omitting them from the sauce or replacing them would be a mistake though. They provide a smoky, dusky, spicy, mesquite flavour and an instant depth to the sauce which is the real warmer in this dish.

And if you are in the market for trying something new, pick up some epazote at the same time you are buying the chiles for Esquites (corn cooked with epazote) to go with the meatballs.

Mexican meatballs in chipotle-tomato sauce
adapted from Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico

340g (12 oz) ground beef
340g (12 oz) ground pork
1 medium or 2 smaller zucchini / courgettes
1medium onion
2 eggs
¼ – ½ teaspoon dried oregano (we liked a bit more)
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds (if you like, lightly toast them in a dry pan before grinding – total different flavour)
8 peppercorns
salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)

2 tins of organic chopped tomatoes (Kennedy uses fresh tomatoes, cooked for 5 minutes)
3-4 chipotles en adobo
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
185ml (3/4 cup) chicken broth
salt & pepper

Finely chop the zucchini and the onion, grind the cumin seeds & pepper corns in a pestle & mortar. Place all the meatball ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands. Form ping-pong ball sized balls (4cm or 1½ inches), cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until needed.

Blend the tomatoes and chipotles to a smooth sauce. Heat the oil in a wide saucepan (large enough to fit all the meatballs), add the tomato-chipotle blend, bring over high heat to the boil and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and bring the sauce back to a simmer. Gingerly place the meatballs in the sauce, let it come back to a simmer again and close the pan with a lid. Reduce the heat and cook for about 50 minutes. Check the seasoning.

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