My mom had a beautiful relationship with her in-laws. That she was neither Mexican nor Catholic was never a problem. She won them over. She told me she would sit down to a conversation about calculus with my grandfather, who also had an amazing mind, and he’d leave her behind in three sentences. Mom learned to cook Mexican food from my grandmother, who was a really good cook.

My grandmother made this dish most days for my grandfather when he came home from the hardware store for a hot lunch. I loved having it for dinner at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother set an elegant table, and these delicate albondigas, made fragrant with mint and cilantro, were often the soup course. The New York Times printed this recipe in 1989 with an article about my dad.

Makes about 65 meatballs, or 6 to 8 servings.


  • 3 pounds ground beef, preferably flank and round steak

    TST-Feels Like Home Bookcover Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downes
  • 6 medium-sized tomatoes, preferably plum

  • ½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped

  • ½ cup cilantro, minced

  • 1 small garlic clove, minced

  • 1 medium scallion, minced

  • 2 tablespoons oregano

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • ¾ cup olive oil or melted lard

  • 6 cups boiling water

  • Lime wedges for serving


Put the ground beef in a large bowl.

Broil the fresh tomatoes just until the skin can be removed easily. Peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Purée in a blender. There should be about 1½ cups.

Add the mint, cilantro, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, and pepper to the meat. Mix well. Add the tomatoes and knead the mixture.

Add the oil or melted lard, incorporating it into meat mixture by kneading. The mass should be neither dry nor too liquid. Test the mixture by forming a piece into a ball the size of a walnut. It should hold together.

Proceed to form walnut-sized balls, and then drop a few at a time into boiling water. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Serve the meatballs in the liquid in which they were cooked, with lime wedges on the side.

Excerpeted from Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands by Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downes reproduced with permission from the publisher, Heyday Books.

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