Julio's albondigas with mint and chipotle


Dreaming of Julio’s Albóndigas with Chipotle and Mint

I have been humbled, time and again, by how one never stops learning from other cooks in the kitchen. That has especially been the case with my cooking team at the Mexican Cultural Institute. We are all from different parts of Mexico, with our peculiar twists and spins, influences and very strong opinions, which we love to scream out loud when trying to make what we serve at each event be the best it can possibly be. Though we get a bit stressed when cooking for kitchen outsiders, we really let loose when making lunch for ourselves. We take turns and last week Julio, a former Mexican taquerí­a cook, made his albóndigas. I had been dying to try them since not only he, but his aunt Maricruz, had been raving about them for over two years. “De veras, de veritas Pati” (Maricruz said, which means really, REALLY) “he makes the most delicious albóndigas of them all.”

There are multiple versions of just about any dish in the world. I am always amazed each time I test and play around with a single dish, at the many directions it can be driven to. That said, we have a family albóndigas version at home, which my boys eat happily at least a couple times a month.

As I watched Julio prepare his albóndigas, I asked him about things I was biased against for the dish, like the use of rice and mint. Well… humbled again I was! As it is said, the devil is in the details, it’s a matter of how these ingredients are used. Each thing that makes these albóndigas work so well, does so for a reason. I liked them so, that we will be making Julio’s meatballs at home now too. My boys noticed the difference in such a good way: “there is something different Mami” they were telling each other, as they cleaned their plates up. Here is a step by step guide on how to make this easy and perfect dish for the Fall:
onion, tomatoes, and garlic
Ripe Roma tomatoes, a couple garlic cloves and a thick slice of white onion to prepare the base for tomato broth.
First of all, the tomato broth where the albóndigas are cooked in uses not just a couple of tomatoes, but a couple pounds. Though in Mexican cooking we usually use Roma (called Guaje) tomatoes for sauces and salsas rather than Round tomatoes, I would recommend using the freshest and ripest you can find, or let them mature outside the refrigerator for a couple days. As the Fall sets in, you can substitute the fresh tomatoes with a brand you like of simple tomato puree.
chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce give the broth a smoky, sweet and rich depth
Once the tomatoes are simmered in water for about 10 minutes, they are placed in the blender with a couple garlic cloves, a thick slice of raw onion and a nice healthy dose of Chipotle chiles in Adobo Sauce. If you can take more heat, drop in a whole Chipotle chile in adobo as well. But remember, you can always add more heat, but it is much more challenging to tone it down once it’s in the mix. So you may want to start with a tablespoon of sauce, and as the broth cooks on, taste to see if you can take a bit more heat. If you are a Chipotle addict, like me, no need to take precautions.After this tomato broth is cooked and seasoned, you can add some chicken broth.
mint and garlic in a molcajete
The mint and garlic play subtly with the tomato and the Chipotle adding both fragrance and welcomed layers of flavor.
Up to this point, all is familiar to me. Julio’s spin though, mashes a couple garlic cloves with 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves in a molcajete and tejolote, the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle. You can use the former or the latter, and if you don’t have either, just mince them finely with a knife. The way the mint plays with the tomato and the chipotle in the dish is subtle, yet quite spectacular.
mint and garlic mashed in a molcajete
Quickly mashed garlic and fresh mint leaves.
It takes no more than 10 seconds to mash it all up. And if you have a molcajete or want to get one, this is a great way to start seasoning it or to season it further.
juju mashing mint and garlic in the molcajete
My 3 year old sous chef, or as my late grandfather would say, my bandido, mashing away.
Since mashing is an activity loved by just about everyone around here, we ended up adding a bit more of this seasoning when we made the dish at home.
the mixture for the albondigas
Ground turkey breast, white rice cooked al dente, mashed mint and garlic, eggs, kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Julio used ground turkey breast, which is what we had at hand. I love to use turkey to make albóndigas, as it makes them lighter and leaner while still very flavorful. You can also use ground chicken, beef, or your preferred combination of meats: veal, beef and pork. This latter one, is my mother’s take. It is pretty tasty too. Julio typically makes them with a mix of beef and pork, but he was unexpectedly more than happy with the results from the turkey.The last of Julio’s spins, that I was skeptic about, was the addition of rice to bind the meat and give the albóndigas nice texture. Turns out, it depends on how you use the rice. Other versions I had tried before with rice, add it completely raw. Julio, quickly cooks the rice in water for 6 to 8 minutes until it is barely cooked through or al dente. So when you add it to the mixture, it finishes cooking as the meatballs cook in the broth and it bonds beautifully together making them fluffy, soft and with such a bite-able consistency.
A plate, ready for you to jump into, with ripe Mexican avocados… tasty with corn tortillas and cooked beans too.
So finally, here goes the recipe for you to print out! My guess is that you will also be pleasantly surprised by what mint and garlic do to the already smashing combination of tomato and chipotle. If you try them, let me know…

Julio’s Albóndigas with Chipotle and Mint

Recipe Yield

8 to 10 people

Cooking time

55 minutes

Rate this recipe

5 from 5 votes


  • 1/3 cup long or extra long grain white rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 to 8 mint leaves
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey chicken breast or a combination of beef, veal and pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground, or more to taste
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons white onion roughly chopped (or a slice to your liking)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of sauce from chipotle chiles in adobo or to taste
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo seeded, optional
  • 2 tablespoons safflower corn or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste

To Prepare

  • In a small sauce pan place the rice and cover with 2 cups hot water. Simmer over medium high heat for 6 to 8 minutes, until rice is cooked al dente but not mushy. Drain and let cool.
  • In a molcajete, mash the mint leaves and 2 garlic cloves with the tejolote until pureed. Alternatively you can use a mortar and pestle or you can simply mince them together.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meat of your choice, the raw eggs, the cooled and drained rice, the mashed or minced garlic cloves with the mint, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly, with your hands or spatula.
  • In a pot, place the tomatoes and cover with water. Simmer over medium high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked through and mushy. Add the cooked tomatoes along with 1/4 cup of their cooking liquid, 2 garlic cloves, white onion, the sauce from the chipotles in adobo and if desired the chile chipotle in adobo in the blender and puree until smooth.
  • Pour 2 tablespoons of oil to a large deep pot and place over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, incorporate the pureed tomato mix. Let it simmer anywhere from 6 to 8 minutes, or until it has changed its color to a deeper red, thickened in consistency and lost its raw flavor. Add chicken broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt and reduce heat to medium low.
  • Along the side of the pot with the simmering tomato broth, place a small mixing bowl with about a cup of water as well as the mixing bowl with the albóndiga mix. Start to make the albondigas, one by one, anywhere from 1 to 2" in width and place them gently in the simmering liquid. Wet your hands in the water before you start and after you make a couple of albóndigas so they are easier to shape and the the mix doesn't stick to your hands.
  • Once you have shaped all the albóndigas, cover the pot and let them simmer over medium low heat for 20 minutes. If you want the tomato broth to thicken a bit more, uncover the pot and let it simmer for 5 to 8 more minutes.
  • Serve hot with a side of freshly sliced avocado, some warm corn tortillas and if desired, frijoles de olla, or cooked beans.


30comments inDreaming of Julio’s Albóndigas with Chipotle and Mint

  1. Carolina Atai

    Jan 21

    Hi Pati, this is another of our favorite meatballs with chipotle. I have made this dish several times and my family absolutely love it.
    Thank you

    1. Pati Jinich

      Jan 27

      Happy to hear Carolina, mil gracias!

  2. Tony

    May 12

    So many different ways to make something unique and incredible. I am currently simmering these and the aroma is warming my home in ways only food that is made from the heart can do. I think my wife can only tolerate 2 chipotle chiles. I hope to enjoy your recipes for many decades to come. Please never stop.

    1. Pati Jinich

      May 17

      How very sweet of you Tony, I hope you and your wife enjoyed these Albondigas 😉

  3. Karen Leyba

    May 01

    I don’t understand the last two paragraphs of the instructions.
    Along the side of the pot with the simmering tomato broth, place a small mixing bowl with about a cup of water as well as the mixing bowl with the albóndiga mix. Start to make the albondigas, one by one, anywhere from 1 to 2″ in width and place them gently in the simmering liquid. Wet your hands in the water before you start and after you make a couple of albóndigas so they are easier to shape and the the mix doesn’t stick to your hands.
    Once you have shaped all the albóndigas, cover the pot and let them simmer over medium low heat for 20 minutes. If you want the tomato broth to thicken a bit more, uncover the pot and let it simmer for 5 to 8 more minutes.
    There is broth and then there is purée which are you talking about? Because if I follow the instructions just like this I will not be using the purée. Please explain, as i want to make these Albondigas.

    1. Pati Jinich

      May 11

      Hi Karen, sorry this got confusing. First you have the tomato puree in the blender, then you fry it in your pot and add chicken broth to make what I call the “tomato broth” from this step on to the end of the recipe. I hope this is useful!

    2. Brenda

      Sep 12

      How do you get the orange color

      1. Pati Jinich

        Sep 17

        It is the combination of the tomatoes and the chipotles Brenda, when you cook the sauce it just gets this amazing color. Enjoy the Albondigas!

  4. Mati

    Mar 31

    Made these today. Used 1/2 lb pork and 1 lb beef.
    They are the most delicious meatballs ever. Gracias, pati

    1. Pati Jinich

      Apr 02

      Yay Mati! So glad to read this <3 Enjoy!

  5. Jason

    Jun 26

    Brings back memories of childhood. My mom used to make albondigas soup with rice and mint that her mother taught her. The flavors are so comforting and loving. Can’t wait to try this version

    1. Pati Jinich

      Jun 26

      Oh I hope that these are just as comforting, Jason.

  6. Malu

    Oct 02

    Hi Paty, This page only shows los ingredientes pero no aparece como prepararlos

    1. Pati

      Oct 04

      Thank you for letting us know Malu…we’re working on it :).

  7. Lourdes

    Oct 13

    I tried the albondigas…DELICIOUS! Im Cuban and married to a Mexican so I substituted the mint for cilantro-lots of it. I served it with white rice and fried sweet plantains{platanitos fritos}. So there, a truly delicious Cuban-Mexican meal! I treasure our culture and love to bring the flair and flavors of our heritage to our dinning table.

  8. Jennifer

    Sep 11

    The sauce is fntastic! I made this for breakfast as written except I swapped the mint for oregano since I didn’t have the mint. Yummm!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Sep 14

      Good idea Jennifer! I am so glad you enjoyed it!

  9. Moni

    Apr 13

    Hmmm!! I had a great dinner and now I am salivating over this… 🙂

    1. Pati Jinich

      Apr 13

      Haha! Go for a second round!

  10. cafefenix

    Feb 24

    Understandably one of the best loved heart warming dishes in most mexican homes. A good recipe like this is a must. Make a copy and have it handy.

    1. Pati Jinich

      Feb 24

      Indeed! We make albóndigas in one way or another at home, every single week…

  11. Sandra Lubezky

    Oct 08

    mmmhhh. Made them today! the mint really gives them a nice kick! (I added more than called for since I wanted to really taste the difference from traditional albondigas). I am usually skeptical of using rice in my albondigas but they came out great. Perhaps you are right, using rice al dente might have been the difference. I also LOVED the sauce.
    thank you so much!!!
    Please keep posting recipes, i am so sick of my go-to meals!!!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Oct 08

      Sandra, So glad you liked them!!! of course I will keep posting more. I am working now on my next post, a deliciously scrumptious and easy torte. Let me know if you have any specific cravings…

  12. Diana

    Oct 01

    Pati, my mouth actually waters when i look at the picture!!!! These albondigas look soooo yummy.

    1. Pati Jinich

      Oct 01

      So glad! That means I am getting a bit better at taking pictures (I must have taken like 150 before getting a decent shot…) GIve them a try, they are nice and comfy in the Fall…

  13. Vered

    Oct 01

    The thing I like most about this recipe is that you use fresh tomatoes. The difference between those and the ones from the cans is huge, especially for short cooking sauces, and that’s the only way I do it at home. And seriously, you take out the chipotle, add some freshly ground cumin and cinnamon to the meat and you get an authentic Mediterranean recipe (including the rice, just like the Greek do).
    One way we like to prepare meatballs at home is the Italian way: you mix the meat of your choice with some ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper. Form the meatballs, fry them shortly and add to a sauce made of fresh tomatoes cooked with garlic and a little basil.

  14. Vered

    Oct 01

    It’s beautiful, Pati. The recipe could easily pass as Mediterranean.

    1. Pati Jinich

      Oct 01

      Thank you, I would love to know how you make your favorite Mediterranean meatballs! Jump in here girl…

  15. Perla

    Sep 30

    La receta de las albondigas con arroz y menta, me parece fantástica.
    La vamos a probar en casa mañana mismo. Genial idea.
    Mil gracias por compartirla.

    1. Pati Jinich

      Oct 01

      Perla, Qué bueno, cuéntame que tal les queda!!!

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