Caldo de Albóndigas or Albondigas en Caldillo is a traditional Mexican meatball soup, served in a light and healthy broth full of vegetables. This delicious recipe is popular in the states of Northern Mexico, where there are as many variations as there are cooks.

My grandma’s caldo de albóndigas recipe is downright perfect for the winter. It’s cozy and delicious, but still healthy enough to help you meet all of your New Year’s resolutions.

overhead shot of caldo de albóndigas in an earthenware bowl garnished with cilantro atop a white lace doily with another earthenware vessel filled with lime wedges  

It’s cold outside and it feels like spring is forever away. Let’s celebrate winter with soup season. Make this delicious authentic Mexican soup for dinner and your familia will be feeling as snug as a bug in a rug in no time.

When I make this soup I am flooded with memories of being in my grandma’s kitchen and being a little kid again. My fondest memory is my grandma rolling out miniature, perfectly sized meatballs.

I always wondered how she managed to make every meatball the exact same size. Every time I make caldo de albóndigas, I feel a little of my abuela’s magic running through me.

What are Albóndigas?

Albóndigas (al·BUHN·dee·guhz), doesn’t that word just sound majestic? Albóndigas is Spanish for “meatballs,” and in my opinion, they are most at home in a bowl of soup. While I happen to love just about all things I can eat from a bowl, caldo de albóndigas (literally “meatball soup”) is the ultimate comfort food.

Meatballs don’t only belong on pasta or a sandwich — In this recipe, beef meatballs are bound together with rice and masa harina, making them tender enough to cut with a dull spoon.

Each bite gives you the opportunity to build a perfect spoonful — a little bit of meat, a few chunks of veggies, and an oh-so-light broth…it’s heaven! The balance of fresh herbs, tomato broth, and unique spices gives this recipe its delicate and irresistible flavor. 

three white bowls of spices on a wooden cutting board to make meatballs albondigas for mexican meatball soup

How to Make Albóndigas

As a child, I was entranced at the way my grandma could churn out dozens of perfectly sized meatballs. Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m happy to share her method with you. 

hand rolling a single albondiga above a silver mixing bowl on a white lace doily

In a large mixing bowl combine ground beef with garlic powder, salt, crushed peppercorns, onions, masa harina, and uncooked rice (full measurements in recipe card below). Combine all the ingredients well.

homemade albóndigas on a wooden cutting board prior to being added to soup

This recipe should yield about 36 to 40 1-inch meatballs. While my grandma had the knack for getting the meatballs to look darn near identical just by feel, you can make these meatballs with a cookie scoop.

It might sound strange, but they’ll come out the same size, every time! And if you’re a little grossed out by the idea of touching raw meat with your hands, the cookie scoop also does a nice job of shaping them. 

How to Make Mexican Meatball Soup

three tomatoes on a sheet pan

Arrange three tomatoes on a baking sheet. Place your oven rack as close to the broiler as possible. Broil the tomatoes for about 20 minutes until softened, turning over after 10 minutes. If the skin has blackened, remove it.

In a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes until smooth. Set aside.

hands holding the base of a food processor after puréeing tomatoes

TIP: If the skins feel stubborn to remove, simply place the hot tomatoes on a plate and cover them with a plastic bag or plastic wrap to sit for about 5 minutes. The steam will help to loosen the skin from the tomatoes, and it should slide right off!

chicken broth, water and garlic in a turquoise enameled dutch oven with tray of meatballs to the side

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, boil water, chicken broth, and minced garlic. Lower the heat to medium and carefully add meatballs to the liquid. Cook albóndigas for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meatballs float to the surface. Lower heat to simmer.

tomatoes and onions sautéing in a skillet for meatball soup

In a medium skillet sauté the remaining onions and diced roma tomatoes in olive oil.

Add the sautéed onions, tomatoes, fresh tomato sauce, remaining rice, potatoes, carrots, celery, coriander, cilantro, and safflower (azafran) to the pot with the broth and meatballs. Cook over medium heat for an additional 30 minutes. 

hand stirring a wooden spoon in completed mexican meatball soup (caldo de albóndigas) in an enameled dutch oven

TIP: The essence of the spice in this soup comes from an exotic trio of fresh cilantro, freshly crushed coriander seed, and whole safflower petals. Don’t leave any of them out! If needed, you can substitute saffron threads for the safflower.

coriander being crushed in a marble mortar

When it is time to serve, ladle soup with albóndigas into a bowl and garnish with cilantro, and serve with warn corn tortillas and lime wedges. If you prefer your soup spicy like I do, add a spoonful of salsa casera or your favorite homemade salsa.

If you’re more of a visual person, you can watch this video below to see how my family makes our favorite caldo de albóndigas.

mexican meatball soup in a brown bowl  

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this meatball soup ahead of time?

Absolutely! Since this is a brothy soup, it is perfect for freezing. It freezes well in these plastic containers. Albóndiga soup will also last for up to a week in the fridge, and, like most soups, tastes better after a day of rest.

If you’re looking for other shortcuts, feel free to make the meatballs ahead of time. Place them on a parchment lined tray with just a bit of space between each, then freeze. Once the albóndigas are frozen through, put them into a zip top container and use within six months.

What are safflower petals? 

When my grandmother made this soup I remember staring at the vibrant red specks of the safflower in the broth and wondered what they were. It turns out, they are very special indeed.

Azafran (the Spanish word for Saffron) is very similar to saffron. While azafran is the stamen of the safflower, saffron is the stamen of the crocus. A thistle-like herb with an orange-red color, it gives food an orange tinge and a heavenly, intoxicating aroma.

If you don’t have safflower or saffron, you can simply omit it.

What should I serve with albondigas soup?

We had a lot of soup growing up and my grandmother and mother always made sure it was kid friendly. Beautiful bowls of salsa casera always graced the table and adults took the liberty of adding spice to their individual bowl of albóndiga soup.

This soup is hearty enough to stand as a complete meal, but I often serve it with corn tortillas.

Mexican pottery bowl with caldo de albondigas served with a lime wedge on a doily

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caldo de albondigas soup with a rolled corn tortilla and minced onions

Caldo de Albóndigas (Mexican Meatball Soup)

4.62 (31 ratings)
This cozy and comforting soup is filled with veggies and tender miniature meatballs known as albóndigas in a delicate and intoxicating broth. Its perfect for warming you up AND helping you achieve all those New Year's resolutions.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons masa harina
  • 1 cup onions, diced and divided
  • ¼ cup long-grain rice, divided
  • 7 cups water
  • 32 ounces chicken broth
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 3 large tomatoes, roasted and blended
  • 2 small russet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon whole safflower

Instructions 

  • In a large mixing bowl combine ground beef with garlic powder, salt, crushed peppercorns, 2 tablespoons of onions, masa harina, and 1/8 cup of rice. Mix all ingredients together and roll out about 36-40 1-inch meatballs.
  • Arrange three tomatoes on a baking sheet. Place your oven rack as close to the broiler as possible. Broil the tomatoes for about 20 minutes until softened, turning over after 10 minutes. If the skin has blackened remove it.
  • In a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a large pot boil water, chicken broth, and minced garlic. Lower heat to medium and carefully add meatballs to the liquid. Cook meatballs for about 10-15 minutes or until the meatballs float to the surface and lower heat to simmer.
  • In a medium skillet sauté the remaining onions and diced roma tomatoes in olive oil.
  • To the pot of broth add the sautéed onions, tomatoes, fresh tomato sauce, remaining rice, potatoes, carrots, celery, coriander, cilantro, and safflower.
  • Cook over medium heat for an additional 30 minutes. Ladle soup with about 5 albondigas per bowl. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, lime wedges, and serve with warn corn tortillas. If you would like your soup spicy add a spoonful of your favorite homemade salsa.

Video

Notes

  • The essence of the spice in this soup comes from an exotic trio of fresh cilantro, freshly crushed coriander, and whole safflower petals. Make sure to use all of them. If absolutely necessary, you can substitute saffron threads for the safflower petals.
  • Meatball soup will last for up to a week in the fridge, or up to three months in the freezer.
Calories: 354kcal, Carbohydrates: 30g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 18g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Cholesterol: 54mg, Sodium: 1024mg, Potassium: 929mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 2396IU, Vitamin C: 29mg, Calcium: 72mg, Iron: 3mg

Originally published: February 2011. This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook.