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Sweet and Sour Meatball Soup

Being sick often does strange things to you – or at least, it does to me.  It makes me do things like wonder if the people at Hartzler’s Dairy intended for the silo in the drawing of their farm on my coffee cup to look like a giant penis (well, it does).  It also makes me do more normal things, like crave soup and wonder if soup made with homemade beef stock has the same healing powers that chicken soup is reputed to possess.

I still couldn’t tell you, but I had no desire to make homemade chicken soup – nor any room in my freezer, to be honest, which is full of beef broth and turkey broth from Thanksgiving (I really need to find something to do with that).  I can tell you that this soup is absolutely delicious and very good for you, too, if made with grass-fed beef, pastured bacon, organic tomato paste and vegetables, and homemade beef broth.

Inspired by AndreAnna over at Life As A Plate’s recipe for Ustuffed Cabbage Soup (if you don’t read her blog, you really should – she posts the most wonderful recipes), I decided to deconstruct my Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf and turn it into a soup.  What came out of the pot didn’t taste a whole lot like meatloaf, bacon-wrapped or otherwise, but had a wonderful sweet-and-sour flavor that went marvelously well with the bacon and vegetables, and tender and moist meatballs.  I will make this again, and perhaps mix the bacon directly into the meatballs next time.

If you don’t want to use bacon (and subsequently the bacon fat) use butter to cook the mirepoix (the finely chopped carrots, celery and onion), or olive oil if for some odd reason you don’t use butter.  Also, I used one white sweet potato in this recipe because that it what I had on hand – feel free to use an orange one, or a white potato, or some other root vegetable, and in greater quantities, if you prefer – I may make it with turnips next time.

Note: If you must use canned or packaged broth, please read the labels carefully to avoid MSG and other harmful additives; at least use the reduced-sodium stuff.

Sweet and Sour Meatball Soup

Sweet and Sour Meatball Soup

10 – 12 servings

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons prepared mustard

2 pounds ground chuck, preferably grass-fed

8 slices thick-cut bacon, coarsely chopped

1 – 6 oz. can tomato paste, preferably organic

3 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 large onion, finely diced

2 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced

2 medium celery stalks, finely diced

1 small head of cabbage, sliced and coarsely chopped

1 large white sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes

3 quarts beef stock, preferably homemade

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat; cook the onion until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Cook the chopped bacon in a large stockpot over medium heat, stirring frequently, until brown and crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.  Remove all but two tablespoons of the bacon fat and reserve for a later use.  Cook the mirepoix – the diced onion, carrot and celery – in the bacon fat until the onion is soft and the vegetables are just beginning to brown; add some of the reserved bacon fat during the process if necessary.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the tomato paste, 3 tablespoons water, apple cider vinegar, honey, teaspoon of prepared mustard and 1/2 teaspoon salt together with a fork until well blended.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ground beef, the reserved onion/garlic mixture, beaten eggs, thyme, teaspoon of salt, pepper, and 2 teaspoons prepared mustard well.  Form into 2″ meatballs – I use a small ice cream scoop to help keep them uniform in size and shape.  Reserve the meatballs on a plate or small tray and set aside.

Put the stock pot with the sauteed vegetables back on the stove over medium-high heat; add the beef stock and stir the tomato paste mixture in.  Bring to a boil and add the cabbage, then carefully drop in the meatballs.  Return to a slow boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove the cover from the stock pot and add the cooked bacon and the peeled and cubed sweet potato; cover again and cook an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the sweet potato is fork tender.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve immediately.

Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator and are even better the next day.

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