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Spain was one of my many destinations this past year and the trip was an inspiration. These albondigas are one of my all-time favorite dishes. It showcases all of the layers of smoked paprika, cilantro, red onions, bread crumbs, garlic and tomatoes. I use turkey instead of meat for the meatballs yet the spices make poultry taste like smoked meat. I love this dish because it’s healthy, I use very little salt, and it’s baked, but the flavor is powerful. I always serve albondigas as tapas, usually with olives, pulpo, fish, a vegetable and whatever else I’m in the mood for. Although these are more typical tapas, anything you make, served as a small portion, could qualify as tapas.

The word tapas is derived from the word verb tapar, which means to cover. Legend has it that tapas were originally the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips to keep the fruit flies away.  Often the meat used to cover the drink was cured and salty so the patrons of the tavern would order more alcohol to quench their thirst.

Another practical theory posits that the fine, bar-hopping citizens of Spain often had to stand due to crowds in the bars and thus placed plates on top of their drinks in order to eat, making it a top and a table.

Historical folklore that says the idea of tapas originated with decrees from various Spanish kings, Alfonso XI, Alfonso XIII or Felipe III, passing the idea of the tapa into law for various societal reasons for slowing down inebriation of the masses with food, curing illnesses, or just personal preference.

To this day, it is still the law in Spain that any alcohol must be served with some form of tapas.

Cured Tapas in Madrid's Central Market

Cured Tapas in Madrid’s Central Market

Abiding by Spanish law (in Manhattan) I made these albondigas to cover plenty of imbibing for the evening. The spices and heat bring an earthy kick to any party. Buen provecho!



  • 1 pound each of ground turkey
  • 1 red onion finely chopped
  • 3-5 cloves garlicchopped finely
  • 1 handful of fresh cilantro plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup crumbs from stale bread
  • 2 teaspoons pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (either homemade with crushed tomatoes and red/white wine or store bought to save time)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, grated onion, chopped garlic, cilantro, cumin, smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon salt, and the black pepper. Add the egg and combine. Add the bread crumbs and combine. Begin to form meatballs to desired size, putting them in an oven-safe dish. I like mine a little smaller, yielding about 20. Cover with tomato sauce then cover dish so it doesn’t dry out while cooking. Bake for about 40 mins then garnish with cilantro.
Two ladies conversing outside a tapas bar

Two Spanish ladies conversing outside a tapas bar in Segovia -taken on our trip to Spain this past May