MMM: Cuban Meatballs

These meatballs were inspired by the pastel palette and tropical rhythms of Cuba. Tender and lush with sweet raisins, briny black olives, and savory blanched almonds, these Cuban Meatballs are like a mini vacation for your taste buds. Served with pan-fried plantains, they’re a meal-time alley-oop.

This recipe is part of March Meatball Madness; get all the recipes right here.

cuban meatballs

Cuban Meatballs from Well Fed 2

Serves 2-4 | Prep 10 min | Chill 20 min | Cook 20 min | Whole30 approved

  • 2 tablespoons blanched, slivered almonds

  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)

  • 2 tablespoons raisins

  • 2 tablespoons green

  • pimiento-stuffed olives, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • pinch ground cloves

  • 2 tablespoons warm water

  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

    NOTE: Why cream of tartar and baking soda? Traditional ground meat recipes are usually tenderized with breadcrumbs. I use a cream of tartar/baking soda combo to keep the meat light and juicy, with a nice, crisp exterior.


Preheat oven to 400F. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.


Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and cook until lightly golden, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until cool to the touch.


In a large mixing bowl, place the almonds, ground beef, tomato paste, red wine vinegar, garlic, raisins, olives, salt, cinnamon, oregano, pepper, and cloves. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the water, cream of tartar, and baking soda with a fork until combined. When it fizzes, add to the meat and mix until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Place in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes or up to overnight. (Chilling makes the balls easier to roll. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip the chilling step.)


Moisten your hands and a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon or scoop with cold water and shake to remove excess. Measure out the meat and roll into a ball between your palms. Line up the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet, about 1/2 inch apart. Slide the meatballs into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Serve Cuban Meatballs with pan-fried plantains or crispy plantains with garlic sauce on the side; diced avocado with lime juice is nice, too!

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  • Matilda says:

    I’m so going to rock this recipe out this week. I think the kids will love them. They loved the mergeuz ones (in the nourished app), so I’m sure they’ll love these one too.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Jennifer M. says:

    Can I use almond flour instead of almonds?

    • Jennifer M. says:

      Actually looking more closely getting ready to make these later today, when do the almonds get used?

      • Mel says:

        Sorry! Missed that in the recipe when I typed it up. They go into the bowl with the meat and the other ingredients. Recipe has been updated.

    • Mel says:

      You can, but they won’t taste exactly the same. When the almonds are in pieces, you get more almond flavor and crunch.

  • Abbey Sharp says:

    Loved this recipe, thank you Mel. I loved the Moroccan/ Middle Eastern flavour profile of these meatballs- they went really nicely with an easy to cook whole grain couscous salad I packed full of veggies.
    Thanks for the recipe!

    Abbey Sharp

  • Alexandra says:

    Plantains are Whole30 approved?
    I’d love it if they are!

  • Melissa says:

    Do these freeze well?

    • Yes. Freeze in a ziplock, then defrost in the fridge. To reheat, wrap in foil and heat in the oven at 250F until hot or place in a skillet on the stove with 1/4 cup water and steam until hot.

  • Natalie says:

    Hi, Melissa:

    I’d LOVE to try these today, but alas! I have no cream of tartar! Will something else work, instead?

    • The baking soda + cream of tartar acts as a leavener, so the meatballs are tender instead of like hockey pucks. The baking soda needs something acidic to be active, hence the cream of tartar. You can add 1 teaspoon of lime juice instead of cream of tartar, or just skip the baking soda/cream of tartar. The meatballs will taste good; the texture will just be a bit denser.

  • Dana says:

    I’m wonder whar will happen if I us ‘un’ blanched almonds? Thanks!

    • Unblanched almonds are pretty hard, so they’re a bit too crunchy for the meatballs. If that sounds OK to you, you can use unblanched, but I recommend blanched because they’re softer.

  • Patricia says:

    Hi, Melissa!

    Thank you so much for the wealth of information on this site. I’m on Day 17 of my first Whole 30, and I’ve used no other resource besides you! Your weekly plans have made this transition almost effortless. Throwin’ a whole lotta gratitude your way! Quick question on these delicious looking meatballs: I have 2 lbs of beef. Can I double the recipe as it stands?

    • Congratulations on 17 days of being extra awesome. Go, Whole30!

      Yes, you can just straight-up double everything, and it works great. I ALWAYS double the meatballs recipes so I have lots of leftovers. Enjoy!

  • Julie says:

    What if you want to leave out tomato? Are there any good substitutes?

  • Debbie says:

    Any suggestions for subsituting the olives? I really don’t like them (I really have tried to though!). Love your recipes, thanks for all the nummies!

    • If you don’t like olives, you probably won’t like any of the possible substitutes either 😉 You can try capers, if you like them (but they’re briny like olives, so maybe not?) but your best approach is probably to just leave them out. Enjoy!

  • Cathy Brooke says:

    So…do you use whole blanched almonds? Or sliced? Or do you chop them up? Making these right now. I’m going to chop them up, I guess, because otherwise I think they’d be too big…

  • Amarullis says:

    Really good. So good that I put down the potato chips when I realized there were leftover meatballs in the fridge. The texture was still great even though they were cold.

  • HappyK says:

    Felt too lazy to make meatballs (and too hot to use the oven) so I just fried this all up lickety split in a pan on the stovetop. Delish, even though I’m one of those weirdos who is not usually a fan of cinnamon .

  • Mary says:

    I’m in day 6 – feeling good just tired ! I find your recipes to be so practical and good ! I really appreciate it!