This caldo de albondigas—traditional Mexican meatball soup—is a favorite in the Arizona home of Michelle Ezratty Murphy. Her husband, Pat, is Puerto Rican and never happier than when Michelle is expertly making his family’s time-honored Boricua family recipes like his Titi Rosa’s arroz con pollo, beef-stuffed alcapurrias, and crunchy empandas with beef picadillo.
But this Mexican caldo is the soup he craves—all the time.
Whenever they go to a Mexican restaurant, the first thing Pat does is scan the menu to see if they sell this cozy, minty traditional dish, says Michelle, who also grew up in Puerto Rico and is one of our favorite criollo cooks at Familia Kitchen.
So when Pat and Michelle found themselves stuck at home during the early and middle days of COVID—without this caldo—Michelle decided it was time to take action.
”I started making my own when we were in quarantine, since we couldn’t go to our favorite Mexican restaurant. You have to understand: My husband LOVES this soup,” says Michelle. ”So the first time I made it for him at home, he told me, ‘You better write down this recipe, because it’s really really good.’ Ha! I love when he says that and I didn’t even pay him.”
(Quick note on spelling albóndigas: You are absolutely right: albóndigas should have an accent on the ó, but when we spell the word correctly, our recipe search tool doesn’t recognize the word, so we have to go accent-less. Same thing with this Guatemalan pepian, which we know should be pepián. Lo sentimos mucho, proper spellers. We share your pain.)
When she was finding her way to making this caldo the way Pat loves it, Michelle made several key tweaks, she says. ”Traditional caldo de albondigas has mint and chicken stock. It also has potatoes and veggies such as green beans and peas. To me, that is more of a stew. We like it to be more simple soup than stew, so that you are tasting the sweetness of the tomato-based broth and the heartiness from meatballs.”
Michelle, who regularly Insta-posts her cooking adventures on @BowlandApron, also switched up the spices. ”I use cilantro and parsley in the albondigas instead of the expected mint. And instead of using only chicken broth, I use a combination of chicken and beef broth for a richer flavor. The trick to this soup is to use really good ingredients. I use either homemade stock or one made with Better Than Bouillon, which is so flavorful. It makes a big difference.
When shopping for ingredients, look for tomato sauce cans in the store that have Mexican flavors, Michelle advises. ”These sauces are usually spiced up a little bit with chiles and onions. And they have less acidity. Using ground sirloin or a low-fat beef 90/10 is a must, she adds. The albondigas get cooked when they simmer in the soup, and if you use a fattier ground beef, the fat will rise to the top, making this a very oily soup.” She also likes to use uncooked long grain rice in the meatballs, sometimes switching in jasmine or basmati instead of the regular white.
Now that she has successfully figured out Pat’s favorite soup, you’ll find it simmering away on her stovetop often. Especially on cold or rainy days, says Michelle. ”We love caldo de albondigas because it’s a warm, tasty soup that’s hearty enough to serve as a meal by itself.” She advises serving it with fresh warm flour tortillas, which she makes from scratch or buys from their local Mexican market.
”A warm flour tortilla dipped into the soup is like heaven. Serve it rolled up—so that you can sop up the soup. It pulls the tomato flavors and oils right up to the surface, and you get a sweet tangy flavor, along with the chewy tortilla,” Michelle says, sighing. The food memory is making her hungry.
She started thinking of caldo today because (unusually for Arizona) it is raining outside. ”Pat would love a big bowl of this caldo with cozy-hot albondigas for dinner tonight,” she decides.
Michelle heads into the kitchen to start making the tomatoey stock and two dozen of those teeny-tiny, tasty, can’t-stop-eating-them meatballs.
For more of her Michelle’s family-famous Latino recipes, check out her chili con carne with bacon and sofrito, a Familia Kitchen Recipe Contest finalist; double-fried-plantain tostones with garlicky mojo sauce; pastelón, the Puerto Rican lasagna; step-by-step guide to baking melty quesitos, and her Familia Kitchen Recipe Contest winner: Pat’s Titi Rosa’s famous arroz con pollo.