How to make Albondigas, a matter of taste or Z knows best?

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Last week as we sat down to a four course meal our dinner guests exclaimed, “Alex, what a lucky guy, Gabriela feeds you well!”  To which I swiftly replied, “He doesn’t eat this way every night. Pobrecito, he ate albondigas for breakfast, lunch and dinner all week long – I was recipe testing.”

Yes, for ten days straight Alex and I ate four different, eight serving recipes worth of Albondigas.

A more tomato-y version of the dish

I first made this Mexican soup in Zarela’s home kitchen a few months ago.  Z wanted to teach me some basic dishes, so we opened her cookbook, Food from My Heart, to the family recipe Albondigas de Mi Mama.  Although Z is an expert, she is tremendously hands-off and trusting in the kitchen, even with a novice like me. She pointed to the recipe and said beaming,

“Ok, go ahead, let’s get started!”

I confidently placed the two types of ground meat, pork and beef, in a large bowl. Then I scooped a quarter cup of dry masa into the same bowl. Zarela came over, examined my efforts and grinned.

“You need to add the water to the dry masa before combining it with the meat,” she said. “Did you read the recipe all the way through before you began?”


Zarela Lesson OneAlways read the recipe in its entirety before beginning to cook.

I did it right the second time around!

I carefully scooped up the globs of meat, leaving the chalky masa in the bowl to be reconstituted.  After adding a bit of warm water and kneading into a ball, I plopped the meat back in the bowl, added minced garlic and seasoning and folded the mixture just until combined.

Zarela Lesson TwoDon’t overwork the meat! It will make your meatballs dense and heavy.

I rolled the mixture into about 40 walnut-sized balls and place them on a tray to rest. Meanwhile, Alex, our sous chef, chopped other ingredients,  Z heated a large pot of chicken stock on the stove and I began to prepare the roux.

50 meatballs for our soup

Zarela Lesson Three, How to Make a Roux:

Knowing how to make a Roux is essential to a variety of cuisines. My first lesson in roux-making was actually given to me as a seven-year-old standing atop a chair next to the Thanksgiving stove, my Nina as my instructor. Z gave me a refresher course.

A golden brown roux

Z’s roux is made with home-rendered lard infused with fried garlic and thickened with flour. The key to getting the roux just right is stirring it constantly until you achieve the color of “una cucaracha” which I interpreted as a peanut butter or golden colored roux. Then temper the fat/flour mixture with a little hot, not boiling, cooking liquid or stock, whisking to eliminate lumps. Tempering is best done by adding small amounts of cooking liquid to the fat/flour mixture at a time. When tempering, always add broth to the roux (never the other way around) until smooth and all lumps whisked out.

We added the roux to the cauldron of broth and turned to our sous chef for the ingredients for the recaudo.

Zarela Lesson four, How to Make Recaudo:

Zarela explained to me that recaudo is like the French mirepoix or the Spanish sofrito, basically the aromatic foundation of the dish.

Mise en Place for Recaudo

For Z, the aromatic base includes comal roasted tomatoes, scallions, garlic and flame roasted chile or jalapeños. The ingredients are simmered down until you achieve a saucy mixture that adds a depth of flavor to the soup base. And I’m pretty sure Z would say that you can use leftover homemade pico de gallo to make a quick recaudo.

Once the recaudo had cooked down to a beautiful sauce we added it to the simmering pot of broth.

Now that we had enriched our broth with a recaudo and a roux the meatballs were ready to go in. I carefully dropped the meatballs into the bubbling pot one-by-one. Just like Chinese dumplings, after fifteen minutes of simmering, they began to float letting us know that our meal was ready.

Carefully dropping in the Albondigas

Since everyone seems to have their own unique albondigas recipe. I wanted to find my own way but instead what I discovered was that sometimes recipes are meant to develop and morph over a lifetime. Well… that and Zarela’s mom knows best.

Alex, Z and I sat down to a hearty meal of Zarela’s Mama’s Meatball Soup.

More like Zarela's recipe this time! (same as below)

I adapted Zarela’s original recipe several times in several ways. One variation used  a can of whole stewed tomatoes in the recaudo since the fresh ones available lacked color and flavor. The resulting broth was richer and heartier than the original recipe. Another rendition of the dish used three types of ground meat, veal, pork and beef, with the results not being so different from the original recipe.  The addition of more spices to the meatballs themselves yielded flavorful results. Inspired by the origin of the dishes name* and wanting truly bite-sized meatballs, I formed the meat into hazelnut-sized, rather than walnut-sized, balls. I also add the mint and cilantro just before serving so they maintain their color and contribute a brighter flavor. I encourage you to try the recipe below once and then tweak it to your taste the next time around or just make ’em the way your Mama did, I’m sure they’ll be great.

Albondigas One of Many Ways

For the meatballs:
l/4 cup masa harina
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
l/4 cup warm water
l/2 pound  ground pork
l/2 pound  ground beef
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon paparika
2 garlic cloves, minced plus

For the roux:
1 garlic clove whole
1 Tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon flour
8 cups chicken stock

For the recaudo:
2 Tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
l/4 cup chopped scallion, white and part of the green (about 4 medium scallions)
2 ripe roma tomatos, roasted and peeled, chopped or 1 cup whole, peeled, stewed tomatoes (more if you want a very tomato-y broth)
1 jalapeño,  finely chopped
6 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

In a large bowl, combine masa harina with the warm water and salt. Add the ground meat, black pepper, cumin, oregano and paparika . Fold ingredients together with your hands and shape into hazelnut-size balls (approximately a teaspoon worth of meat). Set aside on a tray.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a large sauce pan with lid (at least 6 quart capacity).

Make the roux: In a frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon lard or vegetable oil over medium heat. Cook one whole garlic clove for  30 seconds, pressing down on the garlic clove with a wooden spoon to release flavor. Remove the garlic clove. Remove the pan from the heat and  add the flour, quickly whisking to combine. Return to heat and cook over medium, stirring to remove lumps just until the flour is golden (about 45 seconds to l minute).

Add a little hot, not boiling, stock to the golden flour mixture and whisk  to eliminate lumps. The consistancy of the roux should be more of a sauce rather than a gravy, this will prevent it from clumping when added to the larger pot of stock. Pour the mixture into the large pot of stock and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Make the recaudo: In large skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons lard or vegetable oil over medium-high. Add the scallions, tomato, chiles, and remaining minced garlic cloves. Reduce heat and sautée for 4 minutes. Add the sautéed mixture to stock. .

One-by-one, add the meatballs. Let stock return to the boil and simmer uncovered over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the mint and cilantro and serve immediately.

Serves at least 8 as main-dish.

*Do you remember the lesson in Spanish class where you learn that words begining with “Al-” are Arabic in origin? Well, the word al-bunduq” means “hazelnut” in Arabic and denotes “meatball” because of the meatball’s similarity in size and shape to that of a hazelnut.

14 Responses to “How to make Albondigas, a matter of taste or Z knows best?”
  1. rubiesagem says:

    This was delicious! I’ve tried other recipes and have my own but my family and I agree; this one is the best! Thank you. Our bellies are full. = )

  2. It’s amazing how many versions of albondigas there are! Looking forward to making Z’s 😉 We have actually been testing our grandma’s/mom’s recipe and are looking forward to posting very soon. It’s the perfect time of year for soup!

    • gabriellemarielopez says:

      Looking forward to seeing your family recipe. And when you have a chance, definitely cook Zarela’s original recipe at least once, it’s hearty and heart warming. xogabriela

  3. Adam Castleforte says:

    Hi Gabriella,

    I discovered you while watching dozens and dozens of YouTube videos on tamale making, and really enjoyed yours the best. I am boiling a pork butt downstairs at this moment in preparation for some tamales this weekend. I wanted to say that I am also very impressed with your blog. It is very nicely done. I used to keep a food blog myself, but ultimately fell asleep on the couch after one too many bites, and never went back. I will get back to it in due time. This albondigas recipe also looks great and is something I’d like to try, but I wanted to touch base with you on your roux recipe; it says 1/4 lard to 1 tablespoon of flour. I was always taught to make a roux with approximately equal parts fat to flour. Is this a typo, or is that the right way for this recipe? Thanks for your help, and I look forward to reading more of your blog.


    • gabriellemarielopez says:

      Adam, Thanks so much for the compliments. I really enjoy cooking and love sharing it with others. Hopefully you get blogging again soon, please send me the link when you do! As for the albondigas- yes- it is a typo (now corrected)! 1 Tbs fat to 1 Tbs. Flour. 1/4 cup lard the amount you needed to have on hand to make the entire recipe (including the roux and sautéing the recaudo). Thanks for looking out! -gabriela

  4. Adal says:

    Gabriala, this recipe remembers me to my aun’ts. She had the best albondigas I’ve ever had. Have a great weekend! Adal (Edelman)

    • gabriellemarielopez says:

      Hi Adal! Albondigas seem to be the dish everyone’s mama made well. 🙂 (have a great weekend, again).

  5. Eliana says:

    These albondigas look divine! I could seriously enjoy them everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner! You have any left over? jaja

    • gabriellemarielopez says:

      Thanks Eliana, I think I need to have you over for dinner then, as long as you bring one of your famous desserts! hehe 🙂

  6. Shayna says:

    This sounds fabulous! And I laughed out loud while reading the first paragraph. 🙂 I discovered your blog just a couple days ago and I have enjoyed “catching up” so to say. Can’t wait to start trying some of your recipes. 🙂

  7. Grace says:

    After you tweeted about albondigas a couple weeks ago I decided to make Zarela’s recipe. I loved it. My moms recipe puts rice in the meatballs and includes more vegetables. Next time I’ll make it her way.

    • gabriellemarielopez says:

      Zarela’s recipe really is perfect as is, right. Hope you’ll post your mom’s recipe on your blog, I’d like to give it a try.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] to have Z in our lives as a mentor and friend. She has cooked us the best meals we’ve ever eaten, shared recipes with us that we didn’t need to tweak (hard for a food blogger to do, no?) and has helped fuel my passion for Mexican food and […]

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