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Spanish Meatballs in Tomato Sauce – Albondigas Recipe

by Adina 12/05/2020 15 comments

serving spanish meatballs in a small brown bowl
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Last Updated on 12/05/2020 by Adina


Spanish meatballs, albondigas or tapas, these are the best meatballs in tomato sauce I’ve ever had, Spanish food at its best.


Spanish albondigas recipe

Easy to make, incredibly comforting and aromatic Spanish meatballs or albondigas in tomato sauce. Serve as tapas or as a main dish with rice or noodles.


Spanish tapas meatballs


Finally, I get to post this recipe for Spanish meatballs in tomato sauce. Somehow I managed to lose the first set of pictures. But now I have everything again and, let me tell you, this amazing albondigas recipe is so worth it! 

I have made this kind of dish dozens and dozens of times over the years, my husband and my daughter are big fans and wish for spaghetti or rice with meatballs and tomato sauce all the time. But still, I find this particular recipe to be even better than the usual one.

Well, the usual one not really being a written and exact recipe, I have been making meatballs in tomato sauce so often, I haven’t been needing a recipe for years.

Mostly I cook the meatballs in tomato sauce the way my grandmother did, sometimes I cook them like my mother-in-law, sometimes I just dump some leftover meatballs in some homemade canned tomato and vegetable sauce. The fact is meatballs in tomato sauce are always good, no matter what…


albondigas in tomato sauce


Why are these albondigas special?

So why do I like this Spanish meatball recipe more than the others?

Well, I think it is the use of fennel seeds in the tomato sauce. I did use fennel seeds in other recipes (for instance my favorite zucchini soup), but it is only recently that I have started to use them often. I absolutely love their flavor.

You will not need a lot of fennel seeds, but the small amount imparts the sauce a special flavor that just brings the dish to a whole new level. You should definitely try it!

Of course, if you don’t like fennel seeds at all or you cannot find them, you can leave them out, but if you do happen to have them, you should use them.


close up of meatballs in sauce with parsley


What are tapas?

Albondigas or Spanish meatballs in tomato sauce are often seen as tapas in Spain.

Tapas are small portions of food typical for Spanish cuisine. They are usually served with drinks, sometimes free of charge, if you are in Spain. Tapas should not be considered an appetizer, usually, if you start eating tapas then you end your meal eating tapas.

In Spain you can go out for tapas, so to say. That means you would be going from bar to bar, having a drink, and eating one type of tapa and then moving on to the next bar. The Spanish word “tapear”, actually means “to go out for tapas”. Definitely something I would love to do.

Types of tapas

A tapa is not a particular kind of food, it can be almost anything (even paella) as long as the portion is small.

Some of the best-known tapas are the Spanish tortilla – omelet with potatoes. And of course, the most simple tapas: ham, cheese or chorizo on thinly sliced bread.

Then you could also have potatoes in a spicy sauce – patatas bravas, potatoes with aioli, or “wrinkled” potatoes. Ham croquettes, pickles on toothpicks, olives, salted cod, fried calamari, dough pockets stuffed with meat or vegetables, prawns.

You could also have cheese with anchovies on top (definitely something for me), octopus, fried green peppers (I’ve made them quite often myself), deviled eggs, and so on.

All of them very easy to cook at home as well, provided you find the right ingredients. It might get tough around here with finding octopus, but otherwise, I cannot see why I could not make each and every one of these tapas.


spanish albondigas served as tapas with sauce


How to make?


  • Mix all the ingredients with your hand in a large bowl.
  • Form the meatballs, between 30 and 35 small ones, about the size of a walnut.
  • Fry in the skillet until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan, it is better to fry the balls in two batches than too many at ones.
  • If the pan is overcrowded, they will not brown very well.
  • The meatballs will not be completely cooked through at this stage, you will continue cooking them in the sauce later.


frying small meatball in a white cast iron pan



  • Remove the meatballs from the skillet and use the same pan (without washing it) to make the tomato sauce.
  • Add some oil and fry the chopped onion until translucent. Add the garlic and stir it shortly.
  • Add all the other ingredients (don’t forget the fennel – as mentioned above, it makes the sauce perfect), and simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.
  • The sauce should be slightly thickened.
  • Add the meatballs and cook them in the sauce for about 5 minutes or until cooked through.


stirring meatballs in the sauce in a large pan with a spoon


Make ahead?

  • You can definitely do that.
  • The meatballs in tomato sauce keep well in the fridge for about 2-3 days.
  • Just reheat them properly before serving.
  • You can even freeze the leftovers, they will be fine for at least 1-2 months in the freezer.
  • Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and reheat very well.


How to serve Spanish albondigas?

  • You can serve them as tapa meatballs in a small dish with some crusty fresh bread on the side. In this case, the recipe would serve 8 to 10 people.
  • Or you can have them as a main dish over rice or noodles. Mashed potatoes would be great as well. As a main dish, the albondigas with sauce would be enough for 4 people.


More meatballs?

Polish Meatballs with Mushroom Sauce

Beef and Pork Meatballs

Turkey Meatballs without Breadcrumbs

Beef Kofta Recipe

Beef Meatballs with Zucchini


small bowl of tapa meatballs with sauce



serving spanish meatballs in a small brown bowl

Spanish Meatballs in Tomato Sauce – Albondigas Recipe

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Spanish meatballs or tapas – albondigas, these are the best meatballs in tomato sauce, Spanish food at its best.


  • Meatballs:
  • 500 g/ 1.1 lbs ground meat (a mixture of beef and pork)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ½ tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • ¾ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Tomato sauce:
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes (each weighing 400 g/ 14 oz)
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper



  1. Place the ground meat, grated garlic cloves, lightly beaten egg, dried breadcrumbs, parsley, sweet, smoked and hot paprika, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Mix well with your hand. Form between 30 and 35 small meatballs, about the size of a walnut.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Fry the meatballs (in two batches if necessary) until brown on all sides. This will take about 5 minutes. Take the meatballs out of the pan and set aside.

Tomato sauce:

  1. Chop the onion very finely.
  2. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same skillet. Add the onion and cook it until translucent. Add the finely chopped garlic cloves and stir for another minute.
  3. Add the tomatoes from the can, fennel seeds, oregano, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, and chopped parsley. Add some salt and pepper as well. Stir well and bring to a boil. Simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes or until slightly thickened.
  4. Add the meatballs to the pan and heat them in the sauce for about 5 minutes or until cooked through.
  5. Serve as suggested above.


The recipe serves 4 as a main dish and 8-10 as tapas. The nutrition is calculated for 4 servings.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1/4 of the dish
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 565Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 176mgSodium: 788mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 43g

Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.


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angiesrecipes 10/08/2018 - 18:55

Meatballs are my husband’s top favourite! He will love these for sure.

Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop 11/08/2018 - 14:06

Hi Adina! So glad you made this dish again so you could share it with us! It looks fabulous. It’s so frustrating to lose pictures. One time I deleted my camera card before I downloaded the pictures! I hope that never happens again! 🙂

Roland 17/05/2019 - 10:28


Barbara 27/08/2019 - 01:06

I have tried different recipes for albondigas and felt they were bland. This recipe is perfectly spiced. I made it last night as part of a tapas party. The meatballs were a huge success. Thank you for the recipe!

Adina 27/08/2019 - 08:46

So happy to hear you liked them, Barbara. Thank you for letting me know. 🙂

Valerie 25/06/2020 - 13:45

Hi, looking forward to making these for a Spanish dinner tomorrow! One question – “chopped” tomatoes = canned diced tomatoes? Or crushed tomatoes which are smoother? I’ve never used diced in a tomato sauce before so I’m not sure which way to go here. Thank you!

Adina 25/06/2020 - 14:27

Hi Valerie. The tomatoes I used are chopped pretty small, but you can see in the pictures that they are still a little chunky. However, if you prefer a smoother sauce, you can use the crushed tomatoes, the taste will not change, just the texture a little bit. Happy cooking! 🙂

Mr E 28/06/2020 - 22:02

Had a outdoor tapas night with some foodie neighbours and was very nervous as it was the first time cooking for them. They went down very well. Thanks you for the recipe and great instructions. Will definitely make them again

Adina 29/06/2020 - 07:59

I am glad to hear it, Mr.E. Thank you for the feedback.

Stephen Jones 30/07/2020 - 14:45

Great recipe – thank you for sharing.
Cooked them for a tapas evening and everyone enjoyed them stating they liked the mild ‘kick’ they had making them less bland than many meatballs actually eaten in Spain.

Adina 30/07/2020 - 16:34

So happy to hear it, Stephen. Thank you.

Moira 05/09/2020 - 20:10

Made these today. SO GOOD.
No parsley and no fennel. Excellent nevertheless. A keeper.

Adina 05/09/2020 - 21:22

Thank you for the feedback, Moira, so happy to read this. 🙂

Ana 07/09/2020 - 10:20

I cooked these for a tapas dinner party and they were such a hit!! I even made a batch of vegetarian meatballs and used the sauce from this recipe because the sauce is absolutely amazing. I’m trying to think what other recipes I can use this sauce for! I did add half a teaspoon of chilli powder because I wanted it to be really spicy. This meal has definitely become my signature dish, it’s unbelievable!

Adina 07/09/2020 - 16:44

Wow, your comment made my day! So happy to read it! 🙂 🙂


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