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This hearty meatball soup — sopa de albóndigas — is popular as a midday meal in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and with everyone who tastes it!
Made with lean ground beef and fresh vegetables in a beefy broth, this satisfying one-pot meal is an easy-to-make, economical comfort food that’s both healthy and delicious!
History of Albóndigas Soup
Can a soup have a history? Yes, if it’s sopa de albóndigas! Albondigas originate from Spain where the small tender meatballs are traditionally served at tapas bars. Bathed in a savoury sauce, they’re enjoyed at the end of the day with a glass of red wine and are a satisfying snack meant to tide you over until dinner.
In North America, the tiny Spanish-inspired meatballs have evolved from being bite-sized tapas. They now make an appearance in various recipes for sopa de albóndigas. Somewhat similar to Italian Wedding Soup, meatball soup is popular as an everyday family meal throughout Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.
If you’re travelling through Latin America, you can enjoy sopa de albóndigas in family homes, loncherias and comedors (casual, family-owned restaurants) throughout Guatemala City, Antigua and Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
A steaming bowl of sopa de albóndigas is also a fast and satisfying lunch if you’re attending one of the many festivals and celebrations in Guatemala.
There are differences in recipes for sopa de albóndigas. In Mexico, the soup always features rice cooked inside the meatballs while in Guatemala (at least in our family), the meatballs often don’t have rice inside them. Instead, rice is served on the side.
Another difference is that the Mexican variation is a tomato-based soup while in Guatemala, it’s beef broth. Other variations feature cabbage and pasta in the broth. So, it’s a versatile recipe you can customize to make your own.
If you’re wondering about the difference between caldo de albóndigas and sopa de albóndigas, generally a caldo has more liquid and broth while a sopa is more substantial and contains more ingredients and a thicker broth. The terms are often used interchangeably for this meatball soup.
Personally I prefer the Guatemalan version (with rice served on the side) to the Mexican version because it’s easier to taste the freshness of the mint and cilantro without the rice inside the meatball.
If you’re looking for a low-carb soup or are following the Whole30 or Keto diet, you’ll also be a fan of the Guatemalan version of meatball soup.
Budget-friendly and Healthy Meatball Soup is the Perfect Comfort Food
This authentic albóndigas soup is the ultimate comfort food. It’s a soothing and satisfying home-made soup with simple ingredients. For my Guatemala-born husband it’s a dish that reminds him of his childhood.
Yet, it’s a very easy dish to make and one that’s welcome after a long or stressful day.
Although a steaming bowl of soup is most often considered a winter comfort food, this recipe for sopa de albóndigas features fresh mint and a light broth which means it also works well as a summer meal.
If you’re on a low-carb diet, Whole30 or Keto diet, meatball soup is a handy one-pot meal that’s both healthy and quick to make. For a gluten-free variation of this recipe, just substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs for the regular breadcrumbs.
How to Make Albóndigas Guatemaltecos Soup
This caldo de albóndigas recipe calls for a beef broth base. You can make your own at home, use the leftover broth from traditional Guatemalan dishes such as Salpicon de Res (beef salad) or, use a good quality, store-bought beef broth.
I often use the low-sodium version of Campbell’s Ready-to-Use Beef Broth as it doesn’t have MSG, is low in fat and only has 10 calories per 150 ml serving.
Another delicious option is to go with a nourishing Beef Bone Broth that fits the Whole30 or Keto Diet and also happens to be an excellent source of collagen.
1. Begin by frying the finely diced onion and tomato in vegetable oil until softened (but not browned). Allow it to cool to room temperature.
2. Thoroughly mix the cooled cooked onion and tomato with the well-beaten beaten egg, finely-chopped mint and finely-chopped cilantro (reserve 2 Tablespoons for garnish), ground beef, salt, pepper and toasted bread crumbs (regular or gluten free made from a few pieces of leftover bread). Use your hands to really mix the ingredients well. Don’t use prepackaged, dry breadcrumbs as they aren’t absorbent enough.
3.Allow the meatball mixture to cool in the refrigerator while you prepare the vegetables.
4. Peel and slice the huisquil (also known as chayote) and peel and julienne the fresh carrots. If you’re going to use cabbage, shred it very finely.
5. Bring the beef broth to a boil in a large Dutch Oven or soup pot.If you’re using Campbell’s Ready to Use Beef Broth then add enough water to make up the six cups broth.
6. Using a teaspoon to scoop out a portion of the beef mixture, shape the beef into small, round balls until firm and place on a dinner plate or pan. One variation of this recipe calls for rolling the meatballs in flour so they don’t stick to the plate, but I haven’t found that to be necessary.
7. Reduce the temperature of the boiling broth, skimming off any scum, and drop the meatballs one at a time into the simmering broth.
8. When the meatballs have floated to the top (around 5-7 minutes) that means they’re done.
9. Then, add the sliced huisquil and julienned carrots, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender, another 7-10 minutes.
10. Sprinkle with reserved finely-chopped cilantro and mint.
FAQ and Tips for Making Meatball Soup
- What kind of beef should you use for albondigas? There’s quite a difference in fat content between extra lean, lean, medium and regular ground beef. Regulatory guidelines specify the maximum content for each. Extra lean ground beef has a maximum fat content of 10%, lean has a maximum of 17 per cent fat, medium has a maximum of 23 per cent fat and regular ground beef is allowed up to 30 per cent fat.
- For albondigas that are cooked in soup, the best beef to use is lean beef. While it might be tempting to cut down on fat and go for extra-lean, in my experience that will result in less tender meatballs. The extra bit of fat in lean ground beef helps make the meatballs melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
- Any higher fat content than lean and you run the risk of the meatballs falling apart as they cook. You’ll also need to cool the soup and skim the hardened fat off the surface before serving. You still need to do a little skimming if you use lean ground beef but you won’t need to cool the soup.
- Simmer the broth very gently at a low temperature so the meatballs don’t fall apart while they’re cooking.
What to Eat with Albóndigas Soup
In Guatemala, sopa de albóndigas is always served with plain white rice on the side. Serve it with wedges of fresh lime, slices of avocado, tortillas and chirmol – Guatemalan charred tomato salsa or crushed cobanero peppers for an extra hit of spicy heat.
Get our Recipe for Chirmol (Charred Tomato Salsa) to Serve with Sopa de Albondigas
Get our recipe for Guatemalan chirmol, a delicious salsa made of charred tomatoes, cilantro and hot chiles. It’s a popular all-purpose sauce that adds extra kick to soups, egg dishes such as tortitas de berro – watercress fritters and tacos.
And it takes just 5 minutes to make!
Sopa de Albondigas - Healthy Meatball Soup
- large cooking pot
- Large Mixing Bowl
- 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 1 small Tomato (chopped, with seeds and liquid removed)
- 1 small Onion (chopped)
- 1 pound Lean Ground Beef
- 10 Mint Leaves (chopped, reserve 1 tbsp for garnish)
- Cilantro (chop a generous handful, reserve 1 tbsp for garnish)
- 1 Egg (beaten)
- 1/2 cup Soft Breadcrumbs toasted
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Pepper
- 6 cups Beef Broth (homemade or Campbells Low Sodium, Ready to Use Beef Broth recommended)
- 1 Huisquil (cut into quarters, also known as chayote)
- 1 cup Carrot (julienned)
- Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Fry the tomato and onion until softened, but not browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Mix the softened vegetables with the ground beef, mint, cilantro, egg, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Allow it to cool in the refrigerator while you slice the vegetables.
- Form meat mixture into small, firm meatballs.
- Meanwhile, bring beef broth to boil in a large Dutch Oven or soup pot and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Drop meatballs gently, one at a time, into the simmering broth.
- When the meatballs have floated to the top, add the sliced huisquil and julienned carrots, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
- Sprinkle with reserved cilantro and mint.
- Serve this meatball soup with cooked white rice, chirmol (salsa fresca), and wedges of lime and/or fresh avocado.
- To make your own toasted breadcrumbs quickly and easily, toast slices of bread in your toaster or under your broiler, then process in a food processor until fine.
- Are you wondering about huisquil (chayote)? It is a squash that resembles a green pear, and has a texture described as a cross between a potato and cucumber. The fruit is rich in Vitamin C and amino acids.
- What kind of beef should you use for albondigas? There's quite a difference in fat content between extra lean, lean, medium and regular ground beef. Regulatory guidelines specify the maximum content for each. Extra lean ground beef has a maximum fat content of 10%, lean has a maximum of 17 per cent fat, medium has a maximum of 23 per cent fat and regular ground beef is allowed up to 30 per cent fat.
- For albondigas that are cooked in soup, the best beef to use is lean beef. While it might be tempting to cut down on fat and go for extra-lean, in my experience that will result in less tender meatballs. The extra bit of fat in lean ground beef will help make them melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
- Any higher fat content than lean and you run the risk of the meatballs falling apart as they cook. You'll also need to cool the soup and skim the hardened fat off the surface before serving. You still need to do a little skimming if you use lean ground beef but you won't need to cool the soup.
- Simmer the broth very gently at a low temperature so the meatballs don't fall apart while they're cooking.
You Might Also Like These Guatemalan Recipes and Delicious Soups:
- Tapado – A Garifuna Recipe for Seafood with Coconut Milk Soup
- Guatemalan Black Bean Soup – Sopa de Frijol
- Tortitas de Berro – Watercress Fritters
- Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Soup
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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