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Angeles Fernandez

Albóndigas de Carne

A Spanish Recipe of Arabic Origin

by guest writer, Ángeles Fernández

Meatballs, anyone? I'm sure all cultures will have their own "version" of this tasty meat treat.

In Spain, meatballs are called albóndigas - derived from the Arabic al-bunduq (meaning "hazelnut", or a small round object).

Albóndigas are thought to have originated as a Berber or Arab dish imported to Spain during the period of Muslim rule (lasting nearly 700 years, from the 8th-15th century). Moors, as the Spaniards call the Muslims, ushered in the European Renaissance. Many Moorish cultural influences have remained with us till today, and enjoyed in Spain's exotic architecture and cuisine.

The original recipe was meatballs flavored with different spices and fried with oil. You're now probably wondering: "OK, but how do Spaniards prepare meatballs?"

As you can imagine, every woman, every mother, has her own special recipe - based on her mother/grandmother/mother-in-law's recipe, but given her own original touch.

And... here is mine!

First of all, a list of essential ingredients


  • 450-680g minced beef
  • Salt
  • Parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic - finely-chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice bread - covered in milk and left to completely "soak"
  • Flour - to cover meatballs before frying

  • ˝ onion - thinly sliced
  • Tomato sauce - made from a 400g tomate brick OR 450g of tomato sauce

Oil for frying - olive oil, if possible!

[ Serves 3-4 people ]

And now, let's prepare Albóndigas!

First thing to do is put together the mince, salt, parsley and garlic. It will be better if you use a big bowl.

Next, add the egg (don't beat it!) to the mixture. Then add the slice of bread soaked in milk.

Why use the bread and milk? They will give the meat mixture a softer texture — Yes, the albóndigas will be soft, not hard like stones!

And now, using a fork, mix all the ingredients until you get a homogeneous mixture.

Our next step will be to let this mixture stand for 10 or 15 minutes - to let it absorb all the flavors of the ingredients.

Time now to prepare the meatballs! — I use my hands, but I've seen some people do this with two big spoons — Shape the mixture into rounded meatballs, not very big, and coat them with flour.

When the meatballs are ready, we'll add olive oil to a frying pan. How much oil? It depends on the frying pan diameter, but do use enough oil to cover the meatballs while frying them. The oil shouldn't be very hot - otherwise the surface of the meatballs would get brown, but the inside would stay raw.

When the albóndigas turn a light golden brown, they are ready, and you can remove them from the frying pan.

Once all the albóndigas are fried, we'll prepare the sauce.

Cut the onion into thin slices (don't cry!) and fry at low heat — In Spain, we call this pochar, which means "to cook very slowly" until onion takes on a transparent look — Two things to remember here: Don't fry the onion too fast (you don't want it burnt). And don't use too much oil. They will spoil both the taste and texture of your sauce.

Is the onion transparent? Yes? Time to add the tomato sauce — I buy fried tomato sauce (faster than preparing it from fresh tomatoes, that's life!) but you can also add your own homemade sauce, if you prefer. Let the tomato and fried onion flavors slowly infuse, but make sure your pan is on low heat so the sauce doesn't burn.

When ready, add the fried meatballs (albóndigas) to the sauce. Yes, low heat again, so the meatballs have time enough to take in the sauce flavors and vice versa. I let them cook for approximately 10 minutes, turning the meatballs with a wooden spoon so all their "faces" are evenly cooked.

Well, that's my personal albóndigas recipe. My son and husband love it! Some variants use a sauce without tomato but, from my own experience, using tomato sauce makes meatballs so much more succulent.

And now, it's your turn!

Enjoy and buen provecho!

About the author:
Ángeles Fernández was born and lives in Spain. Her passion is teaching Spanish to students from all around the world. And thanks to the Internet, this big window to the world, Ángeles has been teaching Spanish online for more than seven years. She is also the Spanish Language editor at Ángeles is "in love" with her country, its customs, gastronomy and history.

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