My most sought after, favorite tapas out of Spain is hands down these delicious, plump Albondigas!!
These Spanish Meatballs, known locally as Albondigas, are beautifully seasoned and smothered in the tastiest tomato sauce you can ever cook. End result? Meatballs with just enough tomato sauce that you can mop up with fresh, crusty bread, drizzled amply with some great extra virgin olive oil.
Serve theses Albondigas tapas style in their popular cazuelas, and have the trendiest tapas party with your loved ones…
Every country and culture has their meatball specialties. From Swedish Meatballs to Mexican Albondigas in soups, to Greek Soutzoukakia and Middle Eastern Koftas, these ground meat delicacies are finger licking delicious, and are gobbled with gusto all over the world.
We love to try all these international flavors in our meatballs, and get amazed at how different they can turn out.
Today’s Albondigas have fond memories of my back packing days in Spain, a decade back. I absolutely loved the food, especially in their tapas bars serving small plate style food. You simply order a bunch of them, and try these new delicious flavors with plenty of wine by your side.
One tapas I keep coming back to cook is these Spanish Meatballs, smothered beautifully in the best tasting tomato sauce. We’ve cooked these meatballs many times over the years, and have perfected them just right.
You Will Cook Albondigas All the Time, Cos
- They are not your regular meatballs. These meatballs are cooked in a delicious tomato sauce that’s cooked for a long time with warm Spanish paprika, and other great flavor enhancers.
- They are typically served as tapas in small plates, but you can serve them as appetizers or as mains, too.
- They are loved by all ages and are big crowd pleasers.
- They can be paired with lots of sides like noodles, pasta, rice, or just serve them with toothpicks.
- Great for parties and get togethers. The heart of any tapas style party.
What are Albondigas?
Albondigas are a type of meatball that originated in Spain. They are typically made with ground beef, pork, or lamb, and are often served in a tomato-based sauce.
Albondigas can also be found in Mexican and Latin American cuisine. Our Mexican Albondigas Soup is a very popular post here on GypsyPlate.
The word albondigas comes from the Spanish word for “meatballs”. It is derived from the Arabic word ‘al-bunduq’, meaning hazelnut, but is more generally used to describe any small round object. It is thought that albondigas were originally a Berber or Arabic specialty which found their way into Spain during the period of Muslim rule.
When the Spanish seized the Iberian peninsula in the 13th century, they kicked the Moors out, but some of their influence remained. The Spanish were delighted to adopt albondigas, and they in turn took the dish to Latin America during their voyages to the New World.
However, each of those cultures has its own spin on these meatballs. While the Moors had a preference for lamb, the Spanish started using beef and pork, and the Mexicans like theirs with a light broth, or in soup form.
Serving them in a rich tomato sauce is most common in Spain.
Albondigas – the Famous Spanish Tapas
Albondigas is one of the famous Tapas you will find all over Spain. Tapas are small plates or snacks that are served in bars and cafes all over the Spain.
They aren’t exclusive to Spain anymore, bars and restaurants all over the Mediterranean and the rest of the world are adopting this popular way of eating, where people share many small plates of different foods. Sharing tapas is a wonderful way to enjoy food with your friends and family.
Tapa, singular to plural Tapas, is not any particular type of food. Anything can be tapas, like simple croquettes, ham and cheese on toast, Salads, meatballs, piping hot chorizo sausage or Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish garlic shrimp), as long as it’s small portions and comes on small plates.
They are normally served with drinks. They could be cold and simple, like marinated olives, or hot and elaborate. The most common story behind the origin of tapas is that they started out as small slices of meat or bread served in bars that patrons could use to cover their drinks to keep the flies out.
“Tapas” is the Spanish verb for “to cover”. Slowly but surely, the small bar snack started becoming just as essential as the drinks. They also started becoming more elaborate.
Spanish Albondigas are made with meatballs which are not heavily seasoned, but they get their flavors from a beautifully cooked tomato sauce. They are soft and tender, from adding either bread or breadcrumbs soaked in milk to the meat mix.
Most of the times, they are dusted lightly in flour and browned all over before simmering in tomato sauce.
The tomato sauce is laced with their famous Spanish or sweet paprika, which is a MUST if you are looking for authentic Spanish flavor. It has a light and clean smoky, peppery note, and is not hot.
The base of the sauce is created with onion, carrot, good quality tomatoes, and a heavy dose of either white or red wine (white wine being more common than red in many regions).
Spanish Albondigas Ingredients
- Ground meat – We normally use a mixture of ground beef and pork. You can use only one type or another, but we prefer to the mix of two, as ground pork adds lot of flavors when used with ground beef.
- Seasonings for meatballs – Garlic, eggs, breadcrumbs, milk, sweet paprika (some recipes use smoked paprika instead of sweet paprika, but the flavor would differ), salt, pepper, parsley.
- All-purpose flour – To dust the meatballs lightly before frying.
- For tomato sauce – Olive oil, Spanish or white onion, garlic, grated carrot, canned whole tomatoes, sweet paprika, white wine, chicken stock, salt, pepper.
- Garnishing – Chopped parsley.
1. Make the meatballs: Add breadcrumbs and milk to a large bowl; stir until well combined and let stand for 5 minutes. To breadcrumb mixture, add ground beef, ground pork, eggs, garlic, salt, pepper, sweet paprika, and parsley. Knead the mixture gently until thoroughly combined. Roll into 1¼-inch meatballs and place them on a baking sheet. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate the meatballs while you make the sauce.
2. Cook the tomato sauce: Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a sauce pan or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot and garlic, and sauté for about 15 minutes, till the onion starts to caramelize. In a bowl, break the canned whole tomatoes into puree, then add them to the pot. Add paprika, salt and pepper and cook till the liquid starts evaporating, about 10 minutes. Stir in wine and chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
3. Brown the meatballs: While the sauce is simmering, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Gently roll each meatball in some flour, shaking off any excess, and brown them on all sides, about 5-8 minutes. Transfer the browned meatballs to a paper towel lined plate.
4. Simmer meatballs in tomato sauce: Add browned meatballs to the sauce and gently stir them in. Simmer for a further 15 minutes to cook meatballs through completely. Transfer them to a cazuela and garnish with chopped parsley.
Tips and Tricks for the BEST Spanish Albondigas:
1. Using breadcrumbs soaked in milk makes the meatballs juicy and tender. Similarly, you can use 2 white bread slices and soak them in milk, and use the soaked bread instead of breadcrumbs.
2. When browning the meatballs, do not over crowd the pan. This ensures a great golden brown color, without steaming them. You don’t completely cook the meatballs, just get a nice brown color all over. They will continue cooking while simmering in the sauce, taking in all the delicious sauce flavors.
3. Use good quality whole canned tomatoes for this recipe. We’ve found that using good quality canned whole tomatoes is best for any kind of tomato sauce, as they are picked at their prime. Simply break them with your hands into a puree before using them in sauce.
4. Using sweet paprika is vital for this Spanish Meatballs recipe, as it imparts authentic Spanish flavors. In its absence, you can use smoked paprika, though flavors will be a little different.
5. Let the sauce simmer for a longer time, as this really thickens it up, and it develops great flavors along with wine. Either white wine and red wine can be used to make this tomato sauce, but we prefer white wine for this albondigas recipe.
What to Serve Spanish Albondigas With
- Traditionally they are served in small clay plates called cazuelas, along with crusty bread, drizzled generously with good quality extra virgin olive oil.
- You can serve them over noodles, pasta, or even stand alone with toothpicks.
- Make them part of a tapas theme party with other tapas like Gambas al Ajillo, Espicanas con Garbanzos, patatas bravas, Spanish ham croquettes, along with plenty of bread, cheeses, olives and wine.
- Some like to melt manchego cheese all over the meatballs just before serving. You can achieve this by arranging meatballs in cazuelas, topping with slivers of manchego cheese and broiling in the oven or microwave till the cheese melts.
Storing and Leftovers
Albondigas are great as leftovers. As they sit for a few days in the refrigerator, all the saucy flavors seep into meatballs, making them extra delicious. Store them in an air tight container for up to 3-4 days. Simply reheat it on stovetop or in the microwave. You can add a dash of water or chicken stock if the sauce has dried out.
You can also freeze the leftovers for 2-3 months in the freezer. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator, and reheat when ready to serve. You can even use them as meal prep and make a big batch of albondigas, and store them in individual meal sized containers.
There you go, one more cracking recipe fit for all your get togethers. Make these Spanish Meatballs. As said earlier, they are not your regular meatballs, but something that you will love in no time.
You will absolutely get used to eating your meatballs this new way. Drizzle them plenty with olive oil and mop up that sauce with a good warm crusty bread. Meatballs, Spanish Style… Albondigas. You are truly Special.
Spanish Albondigas, on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1/2 lb ground pork (see note 1)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 Tbsp milk
- 1.5 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- all-purpose flour, for dusting the meatballs
- 5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 small Spanish or white onion, finely chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup grated carrot
- 28oz canned whole tomatoes
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- Add breadcrumbs and milk to a large bowl. Stir until well combined and let it stand 5 minutes.
- To breadcrumb mixture, add ground beef, ground pork, eggs, garlic, salt, pepper, sweet paprika, and parsley. Knead mixture gently until thoroughly combined. Roll into 1¼-inch meatballs and place them on a baking sheet. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate the meatballs while you prepare the sauce.
- Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a sauce pan or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot and garlic, and sauté for about 15 minutes, till the onion starts to caramelize.
- In a bowl, break the canned whole tomatoes into puree and add to the pot. Add paprika, salt and pepper and cook till the liquid starts evaporating, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in wine and chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
- While the sauce is simmering, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Gently roll each meatball in some flour, shaking off any excess, and brown them on all sides, about 5-8 minutes. Transfer browned meatballs to a plate.
- When the sauce is ready, add in browned meatballs and gently stir them in. Simmer 15 more minutes to cook meatballs through. Transfer to a cazuela, and garnish with chopped parsley.
- You can skip the ground pork and make it with just ground beef. Simply make meatballs out of 1.5 lbs of ground beef.
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