Announce to your family that you'll be serving Albondigas for dinner and you're guaranteed to get some concerned looks.
Albondigas isn't exactly a common phrase North of the Border, but once you put a plate of these Mexican Meatballs on the table everyone will know exactly what you're talking about.
This traditional version relies on fresh mint inside the meatballs. Yes, mint!
The idea is to flavor the meatballs with fresh mint and then let them simmer in a sweet tomato sauce. This tomato-mint combo doesn't make many appearances in Mexican cuisine, but it's surprisingly refreshing so don't let its rarity scare you off.
You might recognize the tomato sauce we're using as the base from our Tortilla Soup. I'm always amazed when a few key ingredients combine to produce yowsa flavor, and this tomato broth is a perfect example of that.
As is usually the case, I start by throwing the tomatoes in a 400F oven. There's an extended simmer coming up so it's not crucial to roast them all the way -- I usually just toss 'em in the oven and pull them out when I need them.
Meanwhile, saute a roughly chopped onion and 3 whole, peeled garlic cloves in some oil over medium heat. Letting the onion saute until it starts to brown will sweeten up the sauce a bit.
Add the onion and garlic to a blender along with the roasted tomatoes.
And now you've got a decision to make...
If you want a spicy tomato broth you can add some chipotles to it, as seen in the above pic. But this is one of those rare occurrences where I sometimes leave out the chipotles (what?!!).
It's like...when the meatballs are seasoned properly they really don't need much else. A light, vibrant tomato sauce can do the job quite well. But of course, if you want a spicy version that will work too -- 3 chipotles is a good amount if you want to fire it up.
Okay, combine this sauce well in the blender and set aside until you need it.
Now it's time to make the meatballs. Got your mint handy?
You'll need about 1/2 cup chopped mint leaves for this recipe -- that will roughly translate to using the leaves of 8-10 sprigs.
Add the chopped mint to a mixing bowl along with the other meatball ingredients:
So in the above pic you've got:
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup cooked rice
2 teaspoons salt
freshly cracked black pepper (approx. 1/2 teaspoon)
Adding in some cooked rice helps hold them together, but you could always use bread crumbs for a similar effect. If you don't have cooked rice on hand you can get away with using partially cooked rice because of the extended simmer coming up. Simply add some rice to a saucepan along with double the amount of water and boil for a few minutes (be sure to drain before using). Some peeps will even use uncooked rice in the meatballs but that sounds kinda crazy to me.
And keep in mind that you can vary the meat ratio as you see fit, with ground turkey being a viable option too.
Combine the mixture well and use your hands to form meatballs that are approximately one inch wide.
And now congratulate yourself for adding Albondigas to your kitchen repertoire (and to your vocabulary).
Keeping your hands wet will help if the mixture is too sticky to roll them. This batch made 18 albondiglicious meatballs.
I'm in the habit of storing half of these in the fridge, so we're only going to cook half of them today. And regarding the tomato sauce...the recipe box below will list ingredient amounts to simmer approx. 9-10 meatballs. If you want to cook all of the meatballs simply double the tomato sauce.
I usually brown the meatballs before simmering them but you can consider this an optional step. Simply add a thin layer of oil to a pan on mediumish heat and give 'em a roll.
You don't need to cook them all the way -- just a few minutes to slightly char the outsides.
Keep an eye on them as you'll probably need to turn them regularly to prevent sticking. This batch was in the pan for about 4-5 minutes.
Now it's time to finish building the sauce.
Add the tomato mixture to a dollop of oil over medium heat. Let it simmer for a few minutes until it reduces down a bit.
1-2 cups stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
Combine well and bring everything up to a uniform temperature. Add the meatballs and let simmer, covered, for approximately 15 minutes.
Cook until the internal temperature of the meat is approximately 160F. That was just under 15 minutes for this batch.
If you want to skip the browning step you can add the raw meatballs directly to the sauce and simmer for approximately 30-40 minutes. I would probably add a bit more stock for an extended simmer like that.
Once they're cooked it's chowtime as they are best eaten right out of the pan and drenched in the tomato sauce.
Keep in mind that these Albondigas are at their best when properly seasoned. They are sensitive to salt amount, so definitely take a final taste for salt level and add more if necessary.
The mint gives them such a refreshing flavor and will have your family gobbling them up!
You really don't need much else to turn these into a meal. You can serve them as is or with some warm, cheesy corn tortillas.
And of course, if you want to turn them into a sandwich I will be the last person on Earth to stop you.
Keep in mind that the tomato sauce listed in the recipe box below is enough for half of the meatballs. I usually store the other half in an airtight container in the fridge and cook them off sometime over the next few days. If you want to cook off the whole batch simply double the tomato sauce.
Okay, are you getting hungry?! Which recipe from this Module sounds best to you?
In the Module table below, click on 'Dinnertime! Part One -- Quiz!" to start the Quiz.
Albondigas -- Mexican Meatballs
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1/2 lb. ground pork
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
- 1/4 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup cooked rice
- 2 teaspoons salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
For the tomato sauce (enough for 9-10 meatballs)
- 3 Roma tomatoes
- 1 onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 chipotles in adobo (optional)
- 1-2 cups stock (I used chicken stock)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (optional)
- Note: this batch made 18 meatballs but I only cooked off half of them, storing the other half in the fridge. So the ingredients amounts listed for the tomato sauce are enough for 9-10 meatballs. If you're cooking off the entire batch of meatballs simply double the ingredient amounts for the tomato sauce.
- Start by roasting 3 tomatoes in the oven at 400F. (Normally they need about 20-30 minutes to fully roast, but I usually take them out when I need them because there is an extended simmer coming up.)
- Saute a roughly chopped onion and 3 whole, peeled garlic cloves in a dollop of oil over medium heat. Cook until the onion is starting to brown.
- Add the onion, garlic, and roasted tomatoes to a blender. Combine well. If you want a spicy version you can optionally add 3 chipotles in adobo. (I usually scrape out the seeds of the chipotles.)
- You'll need 1/2 cup chopped mint for the meatballs. Pull the leaves off of 8-10 mint sprigs. Rinse and finely chop them.
- Add the mint to a large mixing bowl along with 1 lb. ground beef, 1/2 lb. ground pork, 2 eggs, 1/4 onion (finely chopped), 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 1/2 cup of cooked white rice.
- Combine well and then use your hands to form meatballs that are approximately 1 inch wide. Keeping your hands wet will help if the mixture is sticky.
- I usually brown the meatballs first but this is an optional step. You can always add them directly to the tomato sauce knowing they will need a longer simmer. To brown them, heat up a thin layer of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the meatballs and turn them regularly to give them a char on all sides. This batch was in the pan for 4-5 minutes.
- To finish the tomato sauce, heat up a dollop of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the blended tomato mixture and simmer for a few minutes until it reduces down a bit. Add 1-2 cups of stock, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (optional). Simmer for a few minutes until everything is at a uniform temperature.
- Add the meatballs to the tomato mixture and simmer, covered, until the internal temperature of the meatballs is approx. 160F. That took 15 minutes for this batch. It will take approx. 30-40 minutes if you skip the browning step.
- Take a final taste for seasoning as these meatballs are hyper-sensitive to salt amount, adding more salt if necessary.
- Serve immediately with plenty of the tomato sauce covering them.