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Tex-Mex meatballs in a chipotle-tomato sauce

Tex-Mex meatballs | Homesick Texan

Sundays in October might be my favorite days of the year. The leaves are starting to put on their annual show, the air is crisp, and there are so many choices on how you can spend your day.

For instance, on Sundays you can be lazy and sit on the couch all day reading the paper and a good book; or you can be busy, and visit flea markets and tag sales. You might choose to go to church in the morning and then come home for a Sunday roast; or you might save your eating for later that day when your football team plays a game.

The latter is how many of my friends spend their Sundays this time of year, and it’s always fun coming up with some good game-day grub. Things that always work for me are dips, chile con queso, and other easy foods that can be eaten with your hands. Of course, Texas chili, stews and soups are also good choices, but the nice thing about finger foods is you don’t have to mess with utensils.

Tex-Mex meatballs | Homesick Texan

Enter this skillet of Tex-Mex meatballs swimming in a spicy chipotle tomato sauce. This recipe is inspired by recipes from Rick Bayless and Diane Kennedy for Mexican albondigas, which is just the Spanish word for meatball. I’ve taken their lead but goosed up my meatballs with more spices and herbs, along with a bit of chili powder. And in a nod to old-fashioned Texas meatballs, have used crushed saltine crackers as a binder instead of the more traditional rice.

These don’t take too long to make, especially if you use a cookie scoop to form your meatballs. (Though if you have young helpers hanging around the kitchen, forming the meatballs is a good way to put them to work.) To get a nice crisp outer layer, I bake the meatballs for a few minutes before adding them to the sauce. And after a half hour of simmering, they’re done.

While you can enjoy these Tex-Mex meatballs any day of the week, I find them especially suited to Sundays, as they are indeed perfect game-watching food. Though if you have other plans on a Sunday, there’s certainly no reason why you couldn’t enjoy them after church or a visit to the flea market (or when reading page proofs to your latest book, as they were by this particular cook last Sunday).

Tex-Mex meatballs | Homesick Texan

I like to serve them with crusty pieces of bread, as I find that’s the best vehicle for sopping up some of the smoky, spicy sauce, but they’re just as good with warm tortillas or even toothpicks. Just know the most important thing is to make sure you have enough for everyone, as they will go fast. Yep, you probably won’t have any leftovers as these Tex-Mex meatballs are definitely crowd-pleasing food.

Tex-Mex meatballs | Homesick Texan
4.5 from 2 votes

Tex-Mex meatballs in a chipotle-tomato sauce

Servings 4
Author Lisa Fain


Ingredients for the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnishing
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup cracker crumbs
  • Cotija cheese crumbled, for garnishing
  • Bread or tortillas, for serving

Ingredients for the sauce:

  • 1 (14-ounce ) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt


  1. To make the meatballs, place in a large mixing bowl the ground beef, zucchini, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, black pepper, cumin, oregano, chili powder, allspice, egg, and cracker crumbs. Either using your hands or a spoon, mix all the ingredients until well combined.

  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly grease a large baking sheet or 2 large cast-iron skillets. Form the meat into tablespoon-sized meatballs and place on the sheet (you should get about 28). Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

  3. Meanwhile, in a blender mix together the tomatoes, chipotle chiles, onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, allspice, chicken broth, and lime juice. Blend until a smooth puree is formed. Adjust the seasonings and add salt to taste.

  4. Pour the tomato-chipotle sauce into a large pot, but wait until the meatballs are done before turning on the heat. When the meatballs are done, bring the pot to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. Add the meatballs to the pot and continue to simmer covered for 30 minutes.

  5. Serve warm with bread or tortillas, garnished with cilantro and crumbled Cotija cheese.

  1. I think I'm most excited about that sauce!

    re the binder – I've been using a mix of bread crumbs and masa harina for meatballs and fritters. I happen to like masa and always have it for making tortillas – and have found it helps hold things together better for me. I don't want to "mess with Texas" traditional cracker binder but plan on trying this both ways :)!

  2. Liz–You know, I've never tried using masa harina with bread crumbs as a binder, but I'll have to try next time I make these. What a great idea!

  3. Ooh….I feel a meatball taco in my future.

  4. Frank–I'd say your future looks delicious!

  5. Beautiful meatballs and so delicious looking!

  6. Are the chipotle chiles the canned ones in adobo or something different?

  7. looks like the perfect thing for this Sunday when all my friends are at my place hunting…

  8. Eileen–They're the canned kind. I'll update the recipe so it's more specific.

    Rocky Mountain Woman–That sounds like a fun Sunday!

  9. Thanks Lisa! I might make these for a party tomorrow night.

  10. Eileen–They're perfect for a party!

  11. Stephanie

    Making these as meatball subs (throw them in a crusty hoagie bun, top with cheese, put in broiler for a quick melt) for Sunday NFL! Thanks Lisa!

  12. Stephanie-Love that idea!

  13. I might suggest using crushed tortilla chips as a binder. When I get to the bottom of a bag of chips (tortilla, potato, crackers, whatever), I crush them as finely as possible, and store them for future use. I've used this in meatloaf, so I'm guessing this would work equally as well with meatballs.

  14. Anonymous

    I can almost taste them now..I will bake them up and then put them into the sauce, yummmeeee, also I will put some cheese(s) on them, could use a sub bread for the subs, new recipe I got from Octoberfarm for making French kind of baguettes, easy peasy recipe and put the meatballs in them after toasting them, some greens and some cheese of one's liking melting the whole sub in the oven wrapped tightly in aluminum foil after the parchment wrapping..yummmmeee for the tummy..Read the line up for SXSW in march 2014 oh, my goodness our only is moving to Austin we cannot wait and we will try to visit during SXSW and some other festivals, Austin the number #1 city for jobs and film,movies, artists for all of the USA!~~ Happy Halloween early, also Happy turkey day and the first night of Hanukkah this year fall the evening of Thanksgiving so Happy Hanukkah too! Ciao…

  15. I made these for dinner tonight. I used Liz's suggestion of breadcrumbs and masa harina. It was delicious. Thanks for a great recipe Lisa.

  16. Purpleranger–That's a good idea to use up tortilla chip crumbles.

  17. Willow and Moo–You're welcome! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the meatballs!

  18. Steve in Seattle

    Do you mean two individual chilis from a can of chipotles in adobo? or two cans of chipotles in adobo? two cans seems like a lot of heat?

  19. Steve–Two chiles not two cans.

  20. Anonymous

    Made these yesterday. Used gluten free breadcrumbs. I loved these and will definitely make again. Thinking……might make an excellent meatloaf.

  21. I made these with my usual breadcrumb & masa mix and loved them – perfect blend in the meatballs and the chiles in the sauce – again perfect.

    I, too, think the mix would make and excellent meatloaf.

    I also made a Tex-Mex meatball sandwich with meatballs, cheese and sauce in your tortilla recipe and a little shredded cabbage on top.

    Wonderful recipe!

  22. scarletttexas

    If you have ever been to Marfa, Tx. they have a fabulous Food Truck called Food Shark and they have a version of Mexican Meatballs with Rice. After I visited there, I googled a recipe and it is so good-similar to yours. You can find their daily menu online and I could eat there every day! I love Marfa and I love your recipes!

  23. So much spice!
    So hard to eat!

  24. Anonymous

    So I asked a mbr of my family to use this recipe. The first thing she read was 2 CANS of chipotles in adobo sauce– ooops!! Needless to say the result was WAAAAAY too spicey (and I really love spicey). I haven't given up on it, though. I'm gonna make this again (the meatballs are really good) with TWO chipotles chiles, not the whole can.

  25. Liz–I agree!

    ScarlettTexas–Next time I'm in Marfa, I'll have to try Food Shark's meatballs. I love Marfa, too.

    Shelley–They're not too hot.

    Anon–Ooops, indeed!

  26. Christina

    I made these a couple of weeks ago for dinner and they are absolutely delicious – I doubled the recipe and we didn't have any leftover. I think I'm making them again tomorrow night for company…Yum!

  27. Anonymous

    These were great! I was worried about the heat when I first tasted the sauce, but it mad mellowed a little by the time I took them off the stove. I used bread crumbs instead of cracker crumbs because, well, that's how I like my meatballs. 🙂 They were great with a little guacamole.

  28. Anonymous

    I decided to try a vegetarian version and used soy Crumbles. I quickly learned what to do next time. I should have drained the crumbles as they were rather watery. They did hold together as "meatballs," however. What surprised me, though, was that the baked soy-balls completely absorbed the sauce. Despite these problems, the result was very tasty, especially with homemade flour tortillas. Thanks for the recipe.

  29. I tried this as a meatloaf…like the meatballs much better…maybe because they simmer in the sauce (I did use the sauce on top of the meatloaf while baking).

    But the extra sauce…I've been using 2 lg spoonfuls in some chicken broth with whatever meat I've got and then avocado, sour cream or yogurt, cilantro and fried tortilla strips to make a tortilla – tex mex – ?? soup. VERY good.

  30. Lisa, Why the zucchini? Is it for flavor or for binding? Not knocking, just curious because I've never seen it before. I'm excited to try these! 🙂

  31. Amanda–It adds moisture and makes them airier.

  32. Any recommendations for doing part of this recipe ahead of time? I'm planning for a large party and I'm trying to figure out where to slot these in my prep-schedule.

  33. Bill–You can make the sauce and bake the meatballs a day ahead, refrigerate them separately, and then before the party do the last step where you finish cooking the meatballs in the sauce for 30 minutes so they'll be warm for your guests.

  34. You actually used the 2 cans of chipotles in the sauce? The whole 2 cans?

  35. We made these for dinner last night and LOVED them! Thank you for this great recipe. Look forward to having the leftovers again tonight 🙂

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