Servings: 6 to 8
I was captivated by the name of this traditional pinto bean soup from the tiny Sinaloan mountain town of Jinetes de Machado: Ombligo means belly button! The rich, creamy pureed soup has masa dumplings in it that are shaped into little balls with dimples in them—hence the name. The belly buttons trap the hearty flavors of the soup they cook in, but they also thicken it while permeating the broth with the flavors of queso fresco and fresh cilantro and mint. The finished soup seems to beg for a little heat, and because it is Sinaloan, I usually add the region’s iconic dried chiltepín chiles. But you can use another dried ground chile of your liking, such as chiles de árbol, to garnish it.
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook until softened and the edges are beginning to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant and beginning to color, 1 minute more. Stir in the tomatoes and salt, and cook until the tomatoes have reduced to a thick paste, 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the beans, the 1 cup of their broth (or the additional 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth), and 4 cups of the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and simmer for 10 minutes. The beans should be completely soft and the broth thick and soupy. Remove from the heat.
In a medium bowl, combine the masa harina, water, and salt. Knead together. (The dough will be very coarse and seem dry.) Add the oil, queso fresco, cilantro, and mint. Mix until the dough is very soft and homogenous, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, and whisk or stir in the remaining 4 cups broth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.
Fill a bowl with warm water for moistening your hands. Wet your hands, and form the dumplings one at a time: Scoop up enough masa to make a 1-inch ball, roll between your hands into a ball, and make a dimple in the middle with your thumb, then gently drop into the soup. Once all the dumplings have been shaped and added to the soup, gently stir with a wooden spoon to make sure none are sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cover partially and simmer gently until the dumplings are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
Season to taste with salt. Serve hot, and garnish with crema, scallions, herbs, and/or crushed chiles, if using.
If you have a choice between masa harina for tamales (the package will say “for tamales”) or for tortillas, go for the tamale version. Masa harina for tortillas is finer, but it will work.
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