Food & Drink

Why Meatballs are “Texas Mexican”

Makes 40 1½-inch meatballs

A recipe for albóndigas de chile ancho

Tex-Mex cuisine has taken its share of slings and arrows over the years. Truthfully, Adán Medrano has no real issues with processed cheese or greasy refried beans. But in his recent cookbook, Truly Texas Mexican, the San Antonio native outlines a different kind of Texas cooking, with recipes that rely upon fewer—and fresher—ingredients. Medrano’s history of what he calls “Texas Mexican” food begins centuries before the first Europeans set foot in the United States, with the simmering beans and roast wild chiles of the tribes that first inhabited the Lone Star State, and continues into the homes of families across the Southwest today—including his own.

Why did you decide to write a book about Texas Mexican food?

I was born in San Antonio, but for twenty-three years, I traveled through Latin America, Asia, and Europe for work. I have cooked my whole life, and when I was traveling, I saw how important food was culturally. When I returned to the United States, I entered the Culinary Institute of San Antonio to earn a certificate in culinary arts. There, I learned about the cuisines of Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, but saw that the foods of my people, my family, weren’t featured. That was odd to me, because we have a beautiful cuisine. I researched this book for three years, and it was important to me that it was published by a university, because I want the archeology, the stories, the recipes—all of it—in there.

What’s the difference between Tex-Mex and Texas Mexican?

I should say first that I think both are great, and people enjoy both, and making a distinction is in no way disparaging one or the other. But the first big difference is historical, and the second is the flavor profile. Texas Mexican food, which is our indigenous food, goes back 10,000 years, because that’s how long our people have been in Texas. We’re called Mexican-Americans because this area was part of Mexico, but we’re indigenous to this land. Tex-Mex only dates back to about 1900, when the Original Mexican Restaurant opened in San Antonio. And then the flavor profile: Our food is characterized by very subtle flavors. When we make pinto beans, we don’t add oil, hardly, and we don’t add bacon, because we want the flavor of the beans to develop as they cook. We also have a greater range of chiles. You’ll notice that the Tex-Mex flavor profile focuses on fewer chiles, has a heavy emphasis on frying, and uses a lot of processed cheeses. When my mother made enchiladas, she always used queso fresco.

What would you say is the definitive Texas Mexican dish?

I’ll give you two things: the enchilada and the meatball, actually. The enchilada links us to other regions of Mexico. I say that Texas Mexican is a regional Mexican cuisine, just like in Oaxaca, or in Puebla. And when we make enchiladas, we focus on the chiles, just like cooks in other regions of Mexico. It’s not about the cheese, and it’s certainly not the amount of oil in the recipe. Our enchiladas show how we combine native ingredients, like chiles and tomatoes, with foreign ingredients like onions and cheese. And then the meatball emphasizes how international our food is. The Spanish word albóndiga actually came from Arabic first, and now we have twisted it to make it ours in two ways: with ancho chile and with tomatoes, both native. We have adapted it and made it delicious.


  • Albóndigas de chile ancho

    • 4 ancho chiles, seeded and deveined

    • 1 white onion

    • 3 garlic cloves

    • 2 tsp. fresh Mexican oregano

    • 1 tsp. + 2 tsp. salt

    • 1 tbsp. canola oil

    • 1/2 cup milk

    • 3 oz. bread slices, crust removed, broken into 1-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups or 3 slices)

    • 1 lb. ground pork

    • 1 lb. lean ground beef

    • 1 egg, beaten

    • 2 cups diced tomatoes

    • 2 cups chicken stock

    • 1/4 tsp. sugar

    • 1/2 tbsp. white vinegar


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Remove the seeds from the chiles by cutting a slit lengthwise in each chile to open it, and remove the stem with the attached seeds. Remove all other seeds in the chile pod. Place the chiles in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let the chiles steep for 15 minutes so that they will rehydrate. Drain and allow to cool. Discard the water.

  3. Place the chiles, onion, garlic, oregano, and 1 tsp. salt in a blender. Add 1 cup of water and blend on high until the paste is completely smooth, with no large particles. Add a little more water if necessary, and if there are large particles in the paste after blending, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve.

  4. Add the canola oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and then add the chile purée—with caution, because there will be splatter as the liquid meets the oil. Saute for 10 minutes. The color will deepen and the purée will thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.

  5. In a large bowl, pour the milk over the bread and set aside.

  6. In another bowl, mix together the pork and beef. Add the beaten egg and 2 tsp. salt to the meat. Squeeze excess milk from the bread and mix it with the meat using your hands or a large spatula or spoon. Add 8 tablespoons of the ancho chile purée to the meat and mix thoroughly. Then, form the seasoned meat into 40 1½-inch balls and place them on a large cookie sheet. Roast them for 12-15 minutes, or until browned and crispy on the outside. Remove them from the oven and allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving them.

  7. Meanwhile, add diced tomatoes, chicken stock, sugar, and vinegar to the remaining purée and bring it to a boil. Cook it for 30 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken. Taste and correct the salt.

  8. Serve the meatballs with sauce on top, or serve the sauce on the side and use toothpicks for dipping.

Recipe from Truly Texas Mexican, by Adán Medrano