Caldo de albóndigas (meatball soup) is among Mexico’s most widely known and revered comfort foods. This aromatic and restorative soup is filled with fresh flavors from vegetables, has depth in its flavor thanks to the chicken broth, and is filling and chunky thanks to beautiful beef meatballs, which are hearty and thick thanks to the long-grain rice used in making them. This wholesome meal can be served for lunch or dinner, or as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
Try our recipe and make it in bigger batches to freeze in individual containers and have at hand for a quick and delicious meal.
- For the Meatballs:
- 1 pound ground beef (or a combination of 1/2 beef and 1/2 Mexican chorizo)
- 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin (divided)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cloves garlic (peeled and crushed, divided)
- For the Soup:
- 3 quarts beef broth (or homemade or store-bought chicken broth)
- 4 celery ribs (including leaves, chopped)
- 3 medium-sized white onions (cut into quarters)
- 4 large carrots (peeled and chopped or sliced)
- 2 cups greens (mustard, chard, spinach, or similar; chopped)
- 1 bunch cilantro (chopped)
Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this meatball dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for cooking.
Make the Meatballs
Gather the ingredients.
In a medium bowl, mix together the ground meat, rice, salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, and half of the crushed garlic.
Using 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mixture at a time, form meatballs by rolling it between your hands until it forms a ball. Do this with all of the meat until you have used all the beef mixture.
Cover with plastic wrap and reserve on the side.
Prepare the Soup
Add the broth to a large pot and bring it to a boil.
Turn heat down to a slow simmer in which there are hardly any bubbles. Add the meatballs and carefully stir the broth to assure there are no meatballs sticking together. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Add the celery, onion, carrots, the remaining crushed garlic, and 1 teaspoon of cumin.
Simmer for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the rice in the meatballs is cooked through.
Add the greens of your choice and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
Taste the soup for salt, and add any if needed.
Stir in cilantro right before you are ready to serve.
Serve your hot albóndigas soup with tortillas or crunchy tostadas with cream and sprinkled, grated Cotija or other queso fresco.
Here are a few suggestions for true Mexican variations of this soup:
- Like most brothy soups, this recipe can be made even better by a little fresh-squeezed lime juice. Cut Mexican limes into halves or quarters and let diners squeeze lime into their bowls right before eating.
- If you prefer a tomatoey broth, add to the soup 2 cups of peeled, diced or crushed tomatoes (with the juice) along with the vegetables.
- Add uncooked pasta (orzo, alphabets, or broken-up vermicelli or spaghettini) to the soup when you're adding the greens. You might need to add about 1 extra cup of broth to the soup if you are including pasta.
- Don't hesitate to add a greater variety of vegetables to this soup. Use green peas, cubed potatoes, Mexican summer squash, chopped green beans, or some chopped cabbage instead or in addition to one or two of the large carrots. There is no wrong way to alter this soup, but do adjust the salt if you're adding more veggies and check the liquid level to add more broth as needed.