Albóndigas con Caldo (Albondigas Soup Recipe)
Albóndigas con Caldo (a.k.a. Albondigas en Caldillo or Caldo de Albóndigas) is a traditional Mexican meatball soup, served in a light and healthy broth full of vegetables. My grandma’s albóndigas soup recipe is downright perfect for the winter. It’s hearty, filling, cozy, and delicious, but still healthy enough to help you meet all of your New Year’s resolutions.
Now that the holidays are over, it’s cold outside and it feels like spring is forever away. Rather than simply tolerating the season, let’s celebrate winter with cozy meals with our familias! To start, make this delicious and authentic Mexican soup for dinner tonight — everyone is sure to love it.
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 rather than pasta or a sandwich. This delicious albondigas soup recipe is popular in the states of Northern Mexico, where there are as many variations as there are cooks.
In this Mexican meatball soup recipe, beef albondigas are bound together with rice and masa harina, making them tender enough to cut with a dull spoon. While I happen to love just about all things I can eat from a bowl, albóndigas con caldo (literally “meatballs with soup”) is the ultimate comfort food.
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.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
When I make this albondigas con caldo soup I am flooded with memories of being in my grandma’s kitchen and being a little kid again. One of my fondest memories is of my grandma rolling out miniature, perfectly sized Mexican meatballs for this delectable soup.
I always wondered how she managed to make every meatball the exact same size. Every time I make this caldo de albóndigas recipe, I can’t help but feel a little of my abuela’s magic running through me. But aside from being a recipe that connects me to my heritage, this gorgeous soup feels nearly universal.
With a beautiful blend of hearty veggies, tender meatballs, and rice, this is a soup that always earns me praise whether I’m serving it to kids or adults. Who wouldn’t want a bowl of this deeply nourishing and comforting goodness?
Luckily, caldo de albóndigas is pretty darn simple to make at home, so you can try it for yourself. Made with just 15 ingredients (most of which are inexpensive pantry staples) and only about 30 minutes of active time in the kitchen, this authentic albondigas soup recipe is bound to become a family favorite.
Ingredients & Substitutions
With the exception of the last ingredient on this list, everything for caldo de albondigas is easy to find at just about any grocery store and might already be in your kitchen. Here’s what you need:
- Ground Beef – If possible, opt for grass-fed (preferably organic) meat for the fullest flavor. I typically reach for an 85/15 blend, but you can go as low as 80/20.
- Garlic Powder – For seasoning the albondigas Mexicanas with sweet goodness.
- Salt & Black Pepper – For basic seasoning.
- Masa Harina – This nixtamalized corn flour is used for binding the meatballs together, but can also be used to make empanadas, tamales, corn tortillas, cookies, and champurrado. If you end up buying a bag specifically for this recipe, rest assured you’ll have plenty of ways to use up the rest.
- Onions – I typically reach for white onions in this recipe, but sweet yellow onions will also work just fine.
- Long-Grain Rice – Any variety of long-grain white rice can be used here. Be sure to avoid brown rice varieties (unless they are quick-cooking), as they take too long to cook to become tender here.
- Water & Chicken Broth – Chicken broth adds lots of flavor, but water makes the recipe less expensive. The best of both worlds!
- Garlic Cloves – Fresh garlic is almost always preferred, but you’re welcome to use jarred minced garlic, frozen garlic paste, or even garlic powder here if you need to.
- Olive Oil – Just your regular cooking oil is perfect.
- Roma Tomatoes & Large Tomatoes – You’ll roast some of the tomatoes and use the others for chunks in the vegetable-heavy soup. In a pinch, you can swap in whole canned tomatoes and chop or purée them as directed — no need to roast them first.
- Russet Potatoes – I love the starchiness of Russet potatoes, but Idaho potatoes or Yukon Golds can also be used here.
- Carrot – For sweetness, color, and texture. Feel free to use parsnips as a substitute depending on what you can find.
- Celery Stalks – For earthiness and texture.
- Coriander – If possible, I suggest using whole coriander seed that you crush in a mortar and pestle to get the best, most potent flavor. If not, ground coriander powder will work too!
- Cilantro – For bright, herby goodness. If you don’t love cilantro, feel free to use parsley instead.
- Whole Safflower – For warmth, deep orange color, and a lovely flavor that’s hard to pinpoint. This herb is closely related to saffron, so feel free to use them interchangeably in this recipe. If you don’t have safflower or saffron, you can simply omit it.
How to Make Caldo de Albóndigas Soup
As a child, I was entranced by 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.
Step 1: Make Meatball Mix. In a large mixing bowl combine ground beef with garlic powder, salt, crushed peppercorns, onions, masa harina, and uncooked rice (the complete measurements are in the recipe card below). Combine all the ingredients well.
Step 2: Roll Albondigas. This recipe should yield about 36 to 40 1-inch meatballs. Feel free to scoop them out with a spoon and roll them between lightly dampened palms, or use a cookie scoop.
Step 3: Broil Large Tomatoes. Place your oven rack as close to the broiler as possible. Broil the tomatoes on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes until softened, turning over after 10 minutes. If the skin has blackened, remove it.
Step 4: Purée the tomatoes in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside.
Step 5: Cook Albondigas. 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. When they are done, lower the heat to simmer.
Step 6: Sauté Tomatoes and Onions. Meanwhile, sauté the remaining onions and diced Roma tomatoes in olive oil in a medium skillet.
Step 7: Crush Coriander Seeds using a mortar and pestle.
Step 8: Finish Caldo Broth. Add the sautéed onions, tomatoes, fresh tomato sauce, remaining rice, potatoes, carrots, celery, crushed coriander, cilantro, and safflower (azafran) to the pot with the broth and meatballs. Cook over medium heat for an additional 30 minutes.
Step 9: Garnish & Serve. Ladle soup with albóndigas into a bowl and garnish with cilantro, and serve with warm corn tortillas and lime wedges. If you prefer your soup spicy as I do, add a spoonful of salsa casera or your favorite homemade salsa. Enjoy!
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.
While I love my abuela’s sopa de albondigas just the way she made it, there is always room for you to make adjustments to make any recipe fit your needs and preferences. Here are a few of the ways you can customize this Mexican albondigas soup:
- Swap The Meat – Use ground turkey, ground chicken, ground pork, or ground bison in place of ground beef.
- Make It Spicy – Add a few spoonfuls of your favorite salsa to the bowl when plating. You’re also welcome to add jalapeños or serranos to the mix when you sauté the onions.
Expert Tips & Tricks
- The delectable spice in this soup comes from an exotic trio of fresh cilantro, freshly crushed coriander seed, and whole safflower petals. If possible, don’t leave any of them out! If needed, you can substitute saffron threads for the safflower and/or ground coriander for the whole seeds.
- If the roasted tomato skins are being stubborn, 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!
- While my grandma had the knack for getting the meatballs to look darn near identical just by feel, you can shape these Mexican 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 them within six months.
When my grandmother made this soup I remember staring at the vibrant red specks of the safflower in the broth and wondering 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.
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 bowls of albóndigas con caldo.
This soup is hearty enough to stand as a complete meal, but I often serve it with corn tortillas.
More Cozy Dinner Recipes
You may also like these recipes:
- Veracruz-Style Cod
- Caldo de Pescado y Camaron (Fish and Shrimp Soup)
- Chicken Pozole Verde
- Caldo de Res (Beef Soup)
- Red Pork and Hominy Stew (Pozole Rojo)
- Caldo de Pollo
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
If you made my Albóndigas Soup (Mexican Meatball Soup) recipe, please let me know how it turned out! I love hearing from you in the comments and reviews.
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Albóndigas con Caldo (Albondigas Soup Recipe)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Originally published: February 2011. This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook.