I grew up in San Diego, so it's no surprise that many of my most vivid food-related memories involve Mexican food.
My mother loved it, and dinner often revolved around some version of tacos or burritos, as both were easy to make and could satisfy a large hungry family on the cheap.
On those rare occasions when my mom could find enough flex in the budget to allow for a dinner out, we'd often find ourselves at our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant. And after enjoying my fair share (when you're the youngest of five, "my fair share" can be hard to come by) of bottomless baskets filled with warm, salty tortilla chips, I would inevitably find myself seated in front of a steaming cup of albondigas soup.
Albondigas (Spanish for meatballs) soup is a simple, brothy concoction, swimming with carrots, onions, celery and, of course, tiny meatballs. As a child, I viewed the vegetables as more of an obstacle course my spoon had to maneuver around to get to the meatballs and the broth, but it was worth it to get the perfect balance of the meatballs, tiny little nuggets of cilantro-flecked ground pork, and the deeply savory broth, flavored with a hint of oregano and garlic, in one spoonful.
I don't remember tortilla soup coming into my life until I was an adult, although I'm sure it was on those same Mexican restaurant menus, just below the albondigas soup.
My first serious introduction to tortilla soup came on the glossy pages of a food magazine. It was a work of art — a deeply crimson-colored soup, studded with chunks of chicken and brightly colored toppings.
I think I made it for dinner that same night and have loved it ever since.
Tortilla soup typically starts with dried chiles, toasted, hydrated in water, then puréed with tomatoes, onions and garlic. As is often in the case in Mexican cooking, the saucy chile mixture is then sautéed until most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving an intensely flavored paste. Chicken broth is added, along with shredded chicken or some other protein and perhaps finely diced vegetables, and the soup is simmered just long enough to let the flavors marry, before being ladled into a bowl and garnished accordingly.
As these two soups are featured so prominently in my Mexican food lexicon, it only made sense to combine them. The result is a hearty, satisfying bowl of ancho chile-infused meatball soup, generously topped with fresh cilantro leaves, diced avocado and, of course, the all-important crispy tortilla strips.
While it's not the same soup I so fondly remember enjoying as a child, it's a memorable bowl I will no doubt be serving time and time again in the years to come.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.