Albondigas al Chipotle (Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce)
Updated: Mar 1
This recipe gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It is very simple to make and is the real deal: an authentic traditional Mexican meal that my husband’s family has enjoyed for generations. In Mexico, this type of dish is what we call “comida típica:” homestyle meals that are the nuts and bolts of family dining in Mexico. I liken it to comfort food in the states. The ingredients can easily be found at your local supermarket or Mexican specialty store.
I will begin with a confession: I've never been a fan of meatballs. Any meatballs. I suppose it's because I was accustomed to the dry, heavy, bread-crumb laden meatballs of the U.S.
And then came rice. Yes. Rice. Rice is the perfect binding agent for meatballs that many other cultures have been using instead of wheat, since the beginning of meatballs. It's very simple to do: you just rinse the rice and add it (raw) to your meatball mixture before shaping. As the meatballs boil, the rice absorbs the moisture around it, actually infusing the broth into the meatball as the starches bind it all together. The end result is a light, fluffy, gluten-free meatball that holds together firmly and practically melts in your mouth. You can either run your rinsed rice through the blender to break it up a bit, or leave it whole, which is what I prefer to do because I enjoy the texture.
Chipotle (chi-POHT-lay) chilis are smoke-dried jalapeño peppers. They add heat and an undertone of divine smokiness to your recipes. You can find dry chipotle chilis, but for this recipe, we are using canned whole chipotles in adobo sauce. I've spent years adjusting this recipe to my liking, and on the 0-10 scale of spiciness, I'd give this recipe a 3. This can easily be increased or decreased. Here's how to tweak it: the spiciest part of a chili is always in the veins and the seeds. Feel free to add additional whole chilis for a hotter result; or for less spice, skip the chilis all together and only add a few spoons of the adobo sauce that it comes in. Because the adobo sauce is already smooth, you don't have to blend it with the tomatillos and can just add a bit of chipotle sauce at the end of cooking, a little bit at a time (poco a poco), testing it often to get it just to your liking. This recipe is my personal perfect balance as I enjoy the warmth and flavor without it feeling particularly "spicy." However, I always reserve a few meatballs and broth for kids before adding the sauce, because any spice at all might be a bit much for them.
Chili Pepper 101:
In case you've gone too far in your chili pepper experimenting and your mouth is now on fire (it happens to the best of us), a spoonful of something lactose-based (yogurt, ice cream, sour cream) or a drink of milk should neutralize the burning sensation and calm it right down. In this recipe the chili shouldn't get on your hands, but since we're on the general topic of chili peppers, when working with chilis (for example while seeding and deveining them for other recipes such as chiles en nogada) if you don't wear gloves the spice could stick to your hands and become an ever-increasing unpleasant slow burn that is impossible to remove with soap and water. Here's a tip I learned from experienced chefs in a Oaxaca restaurant: pour plain white vinegar on your hands and it will be immediately neutralized.
I hope you enjoy this wholesome, traditional Mexican recipe as much as we do!
1 Kilo / 2.2 lbs very lean ground beef
300 gr / 1 3/4 c. uncooked long grain white rice, rinsed and drained
2 tsp. chicken bouillon pocwder (such as Knorr Suiza)
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
50 gr. (about 1/2) finely chopped onion
1/2 bushel fresh cilantro, rinsed and finely chopped
Water for boiling
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
1 potato, rinsed and cubed (for added nutrients, leave the skin on)
1 celery stick, rinsed and sliced
2 whole chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (from a can)
800 gr. (about 12 large) fresh tomatillos
¼ c. chopped onion
3 tsp. chicken bouillon powder (such as Knorr Suiza)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 c. meatball broth (reserved from boiling)
¼ c. chopped cilantro
Sour cream, avocado, cilantro, queso panela (for garnish)
Fill a large pot halfway with water and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, place the ground beef, rice, eggs, onion, cilantro, pepper and bouillon powder into a large mixing bowl and knead with your hands about 5 minutes, till it becomes “spongy”. Shape into large (tennis ball sized) meatballs. You want to really compact the meat between your hands. Drop into the boiling water. Once all the meatballs are in, ensure that there’s enough water to cover them by at least an inch. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. When they’re about done, you’ll notice the rice has fluffed up and the meatballs are floating. Add any optional vegetables about halfway through.
Prepare the tomatillos by peeling off the papery outer skin, if it still remains. Rinse them well. Tomatillos are naturally sticky so you may need to scrub any dirt away with your hands under running water. Place the clean tomatillos into a large, ungreased, foil lined pan (I recommend heavy duty Reynolds foil- anything else may fall apart) and cook over medium – high heat about 20 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs or a spatula (or your fingers if you're feeling gutsy). We want to partially blacken the skin. Don't worry. The more burned the better. You’ll notice that these smoke a bit so turn on your fan and maybe open a window. Alternatively, if you’re concerned about the smoke, you could accomplish the same result on an outdoor grill, which will greatly intensify the smoky flavor of the sauce. The burned black skin adds an important flavor element so don’t skip this step. When the tomatillos are partially blackened, are soft all the way through, but aren't falling apart yet, they’re done. Turn off the burner (or remove from grill). A lot of that delicious skin may have stuck to your foil, so add about 2 TBSP of water and let it sit for a minute or two before stirring up all those stuck bits. You won't regret it. Set aside to cool.
In a blender, blend the 2 chipotle chilies, the tomatillo, and about 1 cup of broth from your cooked meatballs. Pour into a large pot, add an additional 3 cups of hot cooking broth. Stir in the chicken bouillon powder, pepper, and chopped onion. Carefully transfer the meatballs into the sauce, and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Just before serving, add chopped cilantro. For extra heat, add additional adobe sauce left over from the canned chipotle chilies. Check for flavor and adjust the salt and pepper.
Serve in deep bowls garnished with sour cream, avocado slices, queso panela and fresh cilantro leaves.