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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!
This authentic receta de albóndigas soup makes 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 sopa de albóndigas recipe features fresh mint and a light broth which means it also works well as a summer meal.
Why This Recipe Works
- Suitable for a low-carb diet, Whole30 or Keto diet. It’s also possible to make a gluten-free variation of this recipe with one easy swap.
- Meatball soup is a handy one-pot meal that’s both healthy and quick to make.
- Hearty and satisfying but not too heavy so it’s perfect to serve year round.
What is 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 as a satisfying snack to tide you over until dinner.
In North America, the tiny Spanish-inspired meatballs have evolved from being bite-sized tapas and are used 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 Guatemalteca is also a fast and satisfying lunch if you’re attending one of the many festivals and celebrations in Guatemala. This healthy meatball soup recipe is inspired by the Guatemalan version I’ve enjoyed over the years.
This healthy keto meatball soup is made with a variety of tasty yet wholesome ingredients. Here’s what you will need:
- Vegetables: This meatball vegetable soup is made with fresh tomato, onion, and carrot.
- Huisquil: This vegetable is also known as chayote. It’s about the size of a pear, has a pebbled appearance similar to a gourd, and is light green in color. It has a mild flavor and a texture described as a cross between a potato and cucumber. The fruit is rich in Vitamin C and amino acids. Look for it in Asian, Caribbean, and Latin American markets and some large supermarkets.
- Ground Beef: Use lean ground beef for best results.
- Mint and cilantro: Cooked in the soup and added as a garnish. It’s what sets this meatball vegetable soup recipe apart from others.
- Egg: Necessary binder to help hold the meatballs together.
- Breadcrumbs: You want these soft not dry so don’t use prepackaged, dry breadcrumbs as they aren’t absorbent enough. For best results, toast regular or gluten-free leftover bread in the oven or toaster and then run them through your food processor until finely ground.
- Beef Broth: Make your own beef broth at home or use the leftover broth from traditional Guatemalan dishes such as Salpicon de Res (beef salad). If you decide to use store-bought use a good quality brand. 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.
How to Make Guatemalan Meatball Soup
Let’s started making this amazing meatball soup keto!! Here’s an overview but be sure to check the detailed instructions in the recipe card before cooking.
- Begin by frying the finely diced onion and tomato in vegetable oil until softened (but not browned). Allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Combine the cooled cooked onion and tomato mixture with the well-beaten egg, chopped mint and cilantro, ground beef, salt, pepper and toasted bread crumbs. Use your hands to really mix the ingredients together well.
Place the meatball mixture in the refrigerator to cool while you prepare the vegetables. 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.
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.
- Use 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. Roll them in flour (unless you want low-carb) so they don’t stick to the plate. It’s completely necessary but can be helpful.
- Reduce the temperature of the boiling broth, skimming off any scum, and drop the meatballs one at a time into the simmering broth. When the meatballs have floated to the top (around 5-7 minutes) that means they’re done.
Add the sliced huisquil and julienned carrots, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender, another 7-10 minutes.
- Serve hot and sprinkle with reserved finely-chopped cilantro and mint.
What to Eat with Albóndigas Soup
In Guatemala, sopa de albóndigas is always served with plain white rice on the side. There are always an abundance of fresh lime wedges, slices of avocado, tortillas and chirmol, a Guatemalan charred tomato salsa or crushed cobanero peppers for an extra hit of spicy heat.
- Simmer the broth very gently at a low temperature so the meatballs don’t fall apart while they’re cooking.
- Skim the fat from the top of the soup. If you use a higher fat ground meat you will need to cool the soup a bit before skimming.
- Don’t skip the fresh herbs when serving. It adds a nice punch of flavour to the soup.
There’s quite a difference in fat content between extra lean, lean, medium and regular ground beef. 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.
Using meat with a higher fat content than lean and you run the risk of the meatballs falling apart as they cook.
There are many variations of sopa de albóndigas throughout Latin America. In Mexico, the meatballs contain rice while in Guatemala (at least in our family), the meatballs don’t and instead rice is usually served on the side. I personally prefer this rice-less version because it’s easier to taste the freshness of the mint and cilantro.
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.
Try to form the meatballs quickly. If you handle them too long, the heat from your hands can soften the meat and it becomes mushy. If that happens, place the bowl of meatball mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Once it’s cooled, the meatballs will hold their shape and be firmer when formed.
This recipe was originally published in 2019 but was updated with additional instructions and photos in 2023.
More Guatemalan Recipes
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Sopa de Albondigas (Healthy Meatball Soup)
- large cooking pot
- Large Mixing Bowl
- 1 tablespoon 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 tablespoon for garnish)
- Cilantro (chop a generous handful, reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish)
- 1 Egg (beaten)
- ½ cup Soft Breadcrumbs toasted
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- ½ 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.
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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.
Read more about Michele Peterson.