Albóndigas, Mexican meatballs with tomato and chipotle broth

Mexico has its own version of meatballs, called Albóndigas. Often made with a mixture of pork and beef and served in a tomato broth, this is down-home Mexican cooking. My version contains no pork, but rather range-fed beef. The usual accompaniments are steaming corn tortillas, chopped onion, cilantro and avocado. Russ, my astute taster, looked for a dish of rice when we sat down for dinner. A bed of rice would be fine with this, and I’ll make some for him when we have left-overs tomorrow, but here in Mexico tortillas supply the carbs for albóndigas.

If you aren’t used to taking the time to form meatballs — and I’ll admit I don’t do this too often —  put on some music to help pass the time while you form those little balls. Our FM station from Guadalajara, 91.9, plays hours of jazz and classical music without commercials. On Saturday afternoon, they feature Cuban son, a style of music with Cuban and African influence, popularized by The Buena Vista Social Club. I had those albóndigas rolled in no time while my feet kept time to the Afro-Caribbean beat.

My pride and joy, homemade beef stock, is in this dish. Homemade stock can not be had for love or money — you have to make it yourself. If you love to cook, if you love great food, do yourself a favor and learn to make this simple liquid gold.

Another essential ingredient, and one my kitchen is never without, is chipotle en adobo, canned, smoke-dried jalapeños. Muy picante, they are wonderful added to any soup, but be sure to mince very finely.

This recipe is adapted from The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. A transplanted Brit, Mrs. Kennedy was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican government for her writings on regional Mexican cuisine. Without her books, our tables would be less interesting and lack a certain alegría de vida.

Abóndigas in Tomato and Chipotle Broth

  • 3/4  lbs. (680 grams) ground range-fed beef
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 small (6 oz./170 grams) finely chopped calabacitas or zucchini
  • 1/2 teaspoon each Mexican oregano and mint, or 4 fresh leaves Mexican oregano and mint, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon comino (cumin) seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) fresh tomatoes (cooked in boiling water for 5 minutes and then peeled) or 1 3/4 cups (420 ml.)  canned tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2  chipotle chiles, finely minced
  • 3-4 cups light beef broth, preferably homemade
  • salt to taste
  • chopped cilantro, diced onion and cubed avocado for garnish
  • warm corn tortillas
  1. With your hands, blend meat with next seven ingredients. Form into 1 1/2″ (3.5-4 cm.) balls.
  2. Zizz tomatoes and chipotle chile in a blender, but don’t puree. Tiny pieces are interesting.
  3. Heat oil in skillet over medium-low flame, and cook onion for 4 minutes until translucent.
  4. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
  5. Add tomato and broth and bring to a simmer. Gently add meatballs and simmer covered for 1 hour. Adjust salt.
  6. Serve in bowls with a generous serving of broth, garnishing with cilantro, onion and avocado, and serve tortillas on the side.

Notes:

Etymology: Albóndiga is from the Arabic word, “al-bunduq”, meaning small hazelnut, i.e., a small round object. Albóndigas were brought to Spain by the Moors during Muslim rule. The dish continued to travel, arriving in Mexico with the Spaniards.

Like so many dishes blending onion, garlic and tomatoes, albóndigas are better the next day. They freeze well.

Traditional Mexican cooks don’t use canned tomatoes, and all the recipes for albóndigas call for fresh tomatoes, but it has become impossible to find really ripe tomatoes in Mexican stores. They are as unripe and pallid as tomatoes north of the border. Tomatoes in Mexico are now farmed on a large scale, with shipping and storage being a priority, not taste. If you can’t find red, ripe tomatoes, canned tomatoes offer reliable flavor.

Mexican oregano (Lippia berlandieri) and Mediterranean oregano (Origanum vulgare) are two different herbs. The former is the one commonly used in Mexican cuisine, while the latter is called for in Italian and Greek recipes.

Don’t forget to disinfect your veggies, especially cilantro, a close-to-the-ground plant, and therefore exposed to more contaminants.

Cover of "The Cuisines of Mexico"
Cover of The Cuisines of Mexico


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44 thoughts on “Albóndigas, Mexican meatballs with tomato and chipotle broth

  1. victorious mama

    These are delicious and I love your blog! I lived in Mexico for almost 9 years, on the border. My husband (who is Mexican) was very pleased with these meatballs. So yummy. I also finally learned out to cook rice the way he like it from your Golden Rice recipe. Thanks!

  2. I love albondigas soup. Yours is a bit different from mine but that is no surprise jaja. It looks yummy. My friend Domingo taught me y he is from a different part of Mejico :D I have learned they have as many variations on recipes as we do; like our chilli (Texas, New Mexico, etc). So there is no right or wrong…depending on who you ask. Like us, we all usually like the tastes we grew up with. That food/love/family & friends connection thing.
    Love your blog btw ♥

    1. This will make 4 servings. I am assuming you will be serving this with an appetizer, bread or tortillas, and maybe a salad, so there will be other dishes to fill your guests. I hope you have a wonderful dinner party!

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  6. Daniel Becker

    I love your blog. I’ve become a “house husband” as of recently and have dedicated my time to learning all the recipes my Mexican partner loves. Your site has become a source of inspiration for my own culinary adventures. This meatball recipe will sure to be a hit tonight! We live in Mexico City so luckily most ingredients from all over the republic can be found here, including dried and fresh mint. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you — I’m so glad to hear this is inspiring you to cook a la mexicana. And it is good to hear from someone who lives in Mexico and will be able to find all the ingredients. From what I hear, D.F. is having chilly weather, so you are sure to be warmed by Albóndigas. If you are soup minded again, check out the recipe for oxtail soup, another soup for a chilly day.

  7. Pingback: Oxtail Soup from “Like Water for Chocolate” « Cooking in Mexico

  8. I would love to try your albóndigas. I don’t think we have fresh chipotle peppers where I live–at least I haven’t seen them anywhere. Can dried ones be used and if so how many/how much would you use?
    – Michael

    1. Michael,
      The chipotle chiles I used are canned in a tomato sauce (adobo sauce). You will find them in the Mexican section of most large grocery stores. Chipotle chiles are not a fresh chile; they are smoked, dried jalapenos. If you can’t find them, you could use minced, fresh jalapenos, but they will not have the characteristic smoky flavor of chipotles.

  9. I’ve got this on the list to try as we have been seeing those Mexican squashes (sorta like a pale, fatter zucchini) regularly in the super markets. We only do beef once a week max but when this recipe moves its way to the top of my list, I may try it with elk. Its that season up here in Colorado and we are fortunate to have friends who have a large ranch in Wyoming and share with us. Elk is very lean. Anything with chipotle and Mexican oregano is an instant hit with us.

    1. This recipe would be wonderful with elk! Lucky you to have such a resource. And it would be good with regular zucchini, as well. I prefer zucchini, but it is very unusual to find it in Mexico. The Mexican green squash tastes blander to me.

  10. Vicki in GA

    I’m glad you mentioned disinfecting veggies. I do that in the USA because so much of our produce is handled carelessly these days.

    I’m starved. It is 5 p.m. on Saturday and I need Mexican food. Time to raid the pantry.

  11. Lorin Johnson

    Kathleen,
    I made the Albondigas last night with zucchini and fresh mint. I also made rice to put in the bowls under the meatballs and broth. Jerry and I agree that this recipe is a delicious keeper. It was great on a fall night.
    Lorin

    1. Lorin,

      When we had left-over albóndigas, we seemed to be out of rice so I served it over quinoa, a delicious combination with the meatballs and broth. I’m glad you liked it. I know I will be making it again.

  12. Lorin Johnson

    I forgot to add yesterday that I only learned in the last couple of years that onions and garlic are toxic to dogs. They have a cumulative damaging effect on their livers. Who knows how much damage I may have caused with left overs in the past, but as with chocolate, I try to protect my dogs from them these days. (I will though never forget two of my past dogs opening and eating an entire 5 pound box of my favorite See’s Candies that my parents sent me one Christmas and they didn’t even get a bit sick!)
    Lorin

  13. Hi Kathleen, I’ve never had “calabacitas” in my meatballs, but will definitely give it a try. My grandmother used to make the best meatballs and she would put a quarter of a hardboiled egg in the center. It may not sound great but it is!
    Couldn’t help but notice the beautiful blue tile in your kitchen. I love it!

    1. The minced calabacitas help keep the meatballs moist. I will have to try the egg suggestion. It sounds good.
      The blue tiles add color to my kitchen, but keeping the grout clean is a daily task. I don’t recommend a tile counter for a busy kitchen.

  14. Anonymous

    This recipe looks great. Someone just gave me 70-80 pounds of fresh ripe organic tomatoes today. I canned 21 quarts of salsa last night. I’ve got the fresh mint growing and Mexican oregano that I found for your salsa. I’m not sure if I have any beef stock left in the freezer, but I do have bones and veges. I’ve never tried the stove top method, I’ve only roasted bones and veges, removed the roasted veges and then added more veges with liquids.
    I think Carnes Del Mundo carries their home made stocks as well.

  15. Gilberto Sosa

    I like these meatballs with lots of fresh mint, however, we didn’t have much luck growing hierbabuena in our garden when we lived in Vallarta. I am able to grow my mint here in Iowa and can enjoy my albondigas as my mother used to made them. Saludos

  16. Yay! I made these about a month ago, also adapted from the same book. :) I used rice in the meatballs, and I added mint (hierba buena) which I think is a pretty common addition. I used homemade chicken stock rather than beef stock, and I didn’t use chipotle but I think I’ll try that next time around – sounds really nice.

    I get decent ripe tomatoes from nearby fruit and veggie vendors. They know what I’m looking for so they give me the ripe, bright red tomatoes. They are still nothing like heirloom or home-grown, but you could try your local tiangis to see what they’ve got.

    Great photos!

    1. Hi Marie,

      You may have noticed there there are two recipes for albóndigas in the Kennedy book. The second one doesn’t use rice. I tried to find mint in our local stores, but no luck. I’ve edited the recipe and added mint. Just because I couldn’t find any is no reason for me not to include it. I hope you try this again with chipotle in the broth — really good. Our local tianguis have awful tomatoes, much to my regret. Isn’t it ironic to live in Mexico and have to buy canned tomatoes!

  17. I have often made my own chicken stock but have never made beef stock, except when I did a year at Leiths School of Food and Wine. Having your own stock makes all the difference in the world. It’s true.
    These meat balls look delicious! Bookmarking it for later.

    1. Making beef stock is easy. I always have a quart in the fridge or freezer and it doesn’t last long.
      For a quick lunch, I stir left-over fresh salsa and cubed avocado into a bowl of hot broth for a warming soup.

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