The Seasoned Traveler

Recipes and remedies using herbs, spices, and other natural ingredients from the world's pantry

Spicy Mexican Meatballs in Chipotle-Tomato Sauce

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IMG_5825Luisa Weiss’ memoir, My Berlin Kitchen, contains a number of recipes inspired from around the world that I couldn’t wait to try. The braised leeks were so silky and scrumptious that I was eager to try more from Luisa’s collection. Let me tell you, these spicy meatballs are just what I needed to turn my week around and get my kitchen mojo back.

Luisa’s recipe is adapted from Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico. I took the liberty here to take a shortcut with the tomatoes, since I had some beautiful canned plum tomatoes on hand, and added garlic and more spice to round out the flavors of the sauce (to my taste). I was skittish with the chipotles at first and used just one, but even my spice-averse husband was game for more heat, so I scooped out the meatballs and simmered two more blended chipotles into the sauce, and hit it with a spritz of lime juice and zest and a sprinkling of fresh chopped cilantro for an even punchier flavor.

What I love about this recipe — besides that satisfying kick of spice and warm heartiness — is that the zucchini adds moisture to the meatballs and provides a serving of veggies where you least expect it (the anti-vegetable eaters at your table won’t even know the difference!). Plus, there’s no messy step of browning the meatballs in this recipe. You simply plop them into the tomato-chipotle sauce to cook on a low simmer, resulting in, as Luisa puts it, “delicious meatballs and a clean stovetop.” Every one of my meatballs stayed moist and intact and was perfect for dunking deep in the bowl and scooping up that slightly smoky, zesty, flavorful sauce with each bite.

Below is an adaptation of Luisa’s recipe, with my twists on it for a shortcut and a varied blend of spices. Enjoy!

Meatballs in Tomato and Chipotle Sauce

(Adapted from the recipe in Luisa Weiss’ memoir, My Berlin Kitchen)

Serves 6 to 8 (about 34 meatballs); this recipe is easily doubled to feed a crowd


  • 12 ounces ground pork
  • 12 ounces ground beef
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt


In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, diced zucchini, and the spices. Add eggs, onion and salt and gently use your hands or a spatula to thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Gently form the mixture into 1 1/2 -inch meatballs. Place on a baking sheet, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate while making the sauce.

Sauce and finish:

  • 2 cans good plum tomatoes
  • 2 to 4 chipotle chiles in adobo, more or less to taste
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • one clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • Salt
  • more ground pepper, oregano and cumin to taste
  • zest and juice of 1/2 lime, plus a bunch of chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish


  1. Process the tomatoes and chipotle chiles in a blender or food processor until smooth. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the minced garlic to cook until softened. Add the tomato sauce. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth. When the sauce comes back to a simmer, add the meatballs.
  2. Cover the pan and simmer the meatballs over low heat until they are cooked through, about 50 minutes. Adjust the seasoning by tasting and adding salt and additional seasoning just before the end of the cooking time. This dish can be prepared a day ahead or can be frozen and reheated.
  3. Garnish with lime zest, juice, and chopped fresh cilantro to taste.

Author: Laura Haugen

Writer, Traveler, Foodie

One thought on “Spicy Mexican Meatballs in Chipotle-Tomato Sauce

  1. Brilliant recipe! I totally agree with how zucchini makes the meatballs moist, and probably juicy too, which will burst out with bite. I can smell the aroma the spices add as well. I bought a bottle of cumin seeds yesterday to use for a recipe I have in mind. And, here is another recipe I can use them in!

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