Antonis Achilleos
Active Time
50 MIN
Total Time
1 HR
Yield
Serves : 4 to 6

Salted pumpkin seeds, toasted shell-on, are a super-popular snack all around Mexico. They form the base of pipián, a minimalist, savory mole sauce famous in states like Puebla, and they are an indispensable ingredient in Yucatán’s famous “pumpkin seed guacamole” called sikil pak. While they aren’t the most celebrated Mexican ingredient, they certainly deserve to be, especially when you taste these albóndigas (that’s Spanish for meatballs) made from ground pumpkin seeds, cooked rice, and tomatillos.

We first sampled these vegetarian albóndigas at Planeta Vegetariano, a hidden-away, old-school vegetarian buffet that's been open for a couple of decades now in Puerto Vallarta, my wife Paola's hometown. This dish is a weekly staple for its loyal customers—it’s served every single Tuesday. We didn't know what to think about a meatless meatball, but at first bite, we fell instantly in love with the surprisingly meaty texture and satisfying flavor. They were so delicious and so memorable that one night Paola found herself thinking, why don't we try to make these at home?

In Mexico, albóndigas are traditionally served in a stew with vegetables, which is how I grew up eating them. The broth includes mint as an aromatic, and the actual meatballs are typically made of ground beef, chicken, or pork, with rice to hold them together. (In coastal parts of Mexico, albóndigas tend to be much more delicate and made of fish or shrimp.) My mother would make a steamy one-pot meal of albóndigas in broth to eat on cold days. It easily fed the whole family, and we still had leftovers.

These albóndigas are every bit as comforting, but don’t have a bit of ground meat in them. The ground toasted pumpkin seeds impart flavor and aroma, so the “meatballs” actually kind of smell like freshly crisped chicharrones. How?! That's the magic of this rich, savory seed. Tomatillos keep the albondigas moist and add an enticing flavor while the tomato broth (whether you go with vegetable or chicken stock) adds a layer of umami goodness. But perhaps the best part of this whole dish is how it comes together so quickly with things that you may already have in your pantry, and how many times it will feed you.

We like to eat a bowl of these meatballs alongside some homemade or just really good-quality corn tortillas, fresh guacamole (the baller version without tomato fillers, just minced red onion, lime juice, and cilantro), and if you’re really, really hungry, some quesadillas. They make fantastic leftovers: albondigas taste even better the next day—and even tastier the day after that. (If you have any left, that is.)

How to Make It

Step 1    

Toast pepitas in a medium-size cast-iron skillet over low, shaking pan often, until fragrant and toasted, 12 to 15 minutes. Coarsely chop 2 ounces pepitas; set aside. Let pepitas cool 10 minutes. Place remaining 6 ounces toasted pepitas in a food processor. Add tomatillos, cooked rice, breadcrumbs, egg whites, chopped mint, and 2 teaspoons salt; process until smooth.

Step 2    

Transfer tomatillo mixture to a large bowl; stir in reserved 2 ounces chopped pepitas until combined. Using wet hands, shape mixture into 20 to 22 (1-inch) balls. Set aside on a plate.

Step 3    

Combine oil and onion in an 8-quart stockpot over medium-low. Increase heat to high, and cook until onions are translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, cook, stirring often, until slightly darkened, about 2 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes, potatoes, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer.

Step 4    

When soup is steaming, add meatballs and zucchini. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain a low simmer. Stir in pepper and remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Carefully ladle soup into shallow bowls (about 4 meatballs per serving). Garnish with crème fraîche or sour cream, mint leaves, and sliced chile, as desired. Serve with lime wedges.

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