This recipe for albondigas was taught to me by Luis. Every once in awhile he suddenly remembers some dish from childhood and calls his mother for the recipe. This is one of those meals that actually is best if you can prepare a day in advance because the flavors enhance when it is set aside and reheated the following day. Still it is a meal that takes about 90 minutes overall to prepare and is good for a group of about six.
In the morning, I set aside about a cup and a half of pinto beans (or black beans) to soak for the day. The water should be almost 3 inches above the beans because they will expand as they soak. Additionally, if you have a curious cat like we do I suggest soaking them in a plastic container and setting it in a corner that discourages investigation. I learned my lesson once when Zorro pushed a glass bowl with a lid off the stove just because he was sure there was something he could eat in it.
Cooking your own beans is optional really; you can use canned pinto beans, black beans or even refried beans. Bean tacos are also a nice alternative; you spread a heaping soup spoon of beans lenghwise on a corn tortilla, roll it and fry it in oil. You have to be careful with vegetarian refried beans because the water in them causes the oil to pop.
So later in the day about an hour before I want the meal to be prepared, I drain the beans, rinse them and put them in a pan with water to cover them plus about an inch. I then turn the burner to medium and let them cook until soft. One way to test for doneness with pinto beans is to remove a bean or two from the water and gently blow on them; if the skin peels back with your breath they are done.
As the beans are cooking, I fill a large pan with water and turn the burner on high. I need this to boil the albondigas before cooking them in the sauce. I then take a package of ground beef (the one I used was 1.29 pounds), two eggs, and 3/4 cup of raw white, long grain rice. Additionally, I added a bit of salt, pepper, chili powder and nutmeg for flavor. I am still working on the balance and with the final product didn't notice any significant impact - good or bad - of these additions. I will update with appropriate amounts when I figure it out. I mix these ingredients in a bowl with my bare hands until I feel the mixture go from sticky to smooth and well-blended. I now form the mixture into small balls - about an inch in diameter. I ended with 30 albondigas. The water started boiling as I was just starting to form the albondigas so I can now gently drop each one in the water. I am going to cook them until they start floating to the surface; about 10 minutes.
As I wait for the albondigas to cook, I start on the sauce. I add two cans of cut tomatoes, half a medium onion and two cloves of garlic to a blender and quickly puree and set aside. The albondigas are already floating so I bring the pan over to the sink. I carefully pour about four cups of the water into a measuring cup because I will need some of this for the sauce. I drain the rest of the water and return the albondigas to the pan, with the tomato puree and just enough of the reserved water to get the sauce just over the top of the albondigas. You might need to thin the sauce as it is cooking so keep the reserved liquid just in case. You can always just add water as well but it isn't as flavorful. Finally, I add a bay leaf and turn the burner to medium and let these cook for 30 minutes.
If you are using whole beans for this meal, to serve you simply put a ladle of beans on the bottom of a bowl and add some albondigas and sauce on top. You can serve with quesadillas or plain tortillas. A nice avocado salad or just plain sliced avocado is also a nice side.