The food of Mexico is known for its dazzling variety of dishes and its sophisticated cooking techniques. But to know something about a cuisine, you often have to start with the basics. For many Mexican home cooks, dumplings are a rudimentary part of their kitchen repertoire. Take a small piece of dough, shape it into a ball, and simmer it in a soup or stew. What can be simpler?
Dumplings are, in fact, cherished in kitchens around the world. From classic American chicken and dumplings to all kinds of European pierogi, ravioli, and gnocchi as well as a multitude of stuffed potstickers and rice balls from Asia, dumplings are perhaps the ultimate in comfort cooking.
While many of the world’s dumplings are made from wheat or rice, Mexican dumplings are typically made using the country’s beloved native corn.* They range from simple soup dumplings (like the masa balls and chochoyotes featured here) to tamales (corn dumplings that are wrapped in leaves and steamed). Not just an economical way to bulk up your dish, dumplings are something the whole family can enjoy making and eating anytime.
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*You’ll need a special type of corn flour, called masa harina, to make these dumplings. Masa harina is made by simmering corn kernels with an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide (or slaked lime) in a process called “nixtamalization.” The resulting corn has a higher nutritional value and enhanced flavor and is then dried and ground into flour. It can be found at many large supermarkets and at Mexican grocery stores.
The dumplings in this black bean soup are made from corn tortillas that are soaked and then ground back into a doughy paste. Be sure to let the “dough” rest and chill in the refrigerator before rolling it into balls. This will keep the dumplings from falling apart during cooking. You can serve this classic soup on its own, but the tortilla balls truly makes this dish something special.
BLACK BEAN SOUP WITH TORTILLA BALLS
Serves: 4 (makes about 24 dumplings)
For the Dumplings
1 cup whole milk or water
Eight 5-6 inch corn tortillas, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ TSP salt
For the Soup
1 small yellow or white onion, coarsely chopped
1 small poblano pepper or green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus ¼ cup more for ganishing
1 TBSP chiles in adobo (about 1 chile, optional)
2 TBSP cooking oil, like canola or grapeseed
1 TBSP ground cumin
1 TBSP dried oregano
Two 15 oz cans black beans, undrained
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 TSP salt
2 TBSP freshly-squeezed orange juice
Sour cream and coarsely chopped cilantro for serving
Make the Dough
• Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it just begins to bubble around the edges. Place the tortillas in a medium bowl, pour in the milk, and let it soak for 5 minutes. Pick up the tortillas with your hands and squeeze out any excess milk, then discard the milk.
• Place the soaked tortillas in a food processor, add the onions, garlic, and egg and process until smooth. Scoop the mixture back into the bowl, mix in the cheese and salt, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Make the Soup
- Pulse the onion, pepper, garlic, cilantro, and chiles, if using, in a food processor until the mixture is light and pulpy.
- Heat the oil in medium pot over high heat. Quickly and carefully pour in the pepper mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and darkens in color, about 5 minutes.
- Add the cumin and oregano and stir to combine. Stir in the black beans along with its liquid, the broth, and the salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for the flavors to combine, about 5 minutes.
- Place half the soup in a blender or food processor and puree until mostly smooth. Return the puree to the same pot, stir in the orange juice, and season with salt, if needed.
- Cover to keep warm while you assemble the dumplings.
Assemble the Dumplings
Pinch off a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball about 1 inch around and place on a large plate. Repeat with the remaining dough, keeping the dumplings in a single layer on the plate.
Cook the Dumplings and Finish the Soup
- Fill a medium pot with 2 inches of salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium for a steady simmer. Carefully drop the dumplings, a few at a time, into the simmering water. Cook until all of them are floating, about 3 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to scoop the dumplings out of the water and gently add them to the soup. Place the soup back over medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle into individual soup bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with cilantro.
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