Greek Traditional Meatballs (Keftedakia)
Keftedes: A classic Greek dish full of memories and flavor and the absolute Greek comfort food. Keftedes or else Keftedakia (smaller Keftedes) are the Greek meatballs.
The word is probably derived from the Persian “kofta” which may also be related to the Byzantine Greek “kopto” (diced). Whatever the origin may be, when we mention we’re making keftedes, smiles and happy faces appear around us.
When you make keftedes, your house is filled with the aroma of the herbs and you get really impatient to try them. It’s better if you serve them slightly warm or in room temperature though, in order to really appreciate the flavors.
These meatballs are usually served as an appetizer ("meze") with wine, beer or ouzo. They're also a great snack as you can put them in sandwiches, you can serve them in family gatherings, parties, buffets…the possibilities are endless.
You can also serve them as a main dish with French fries or roasted potatoes and salad on the side. The combination with the traditional Greek salad is amazing! And wait until you try them with tzatziki; you won't believe how awesome this combo is! Actually, any yogurt sauce will do (like the one we post in this recipe), but if you do make some tzatziki you won’t regret the extra effort.
And the best part is, if there are any leftovers, you can throw them in a simple tomato,onion and garlic marinara and let them simmer for a few minutes. Serve this "new dish" over pasta. Yep; you know where this is going! This way you can turn those Greek meatballs into "Italian" meatballs with pasta!
When we were growing up back in the 80s, keftedakia was a summer staple. Any picnic was starting with a Tupperware full of keftedakia. They were also consumed on the beach, after swimming as a snack. Nowadays this seems a bit old school (aka “uncool”) so you probably won’t see this happening, if you visit Greece.
But let’s get back to our meatballs recipe; In this recipe the key ingredient is the mint. It makes all the difference. You can also add dry oregano or fresh parsley. We added all of these, as we want our meatballs really flavorful.
You can use various ground meats, like beef, pork, lamb (or combinations of them), like every Greek family does. Most of the time beef or veal is the only ground meat used (like we did in this recipe). Feel free to substitute any amount of beef with pork or lamb.
Some people also add a pinch of cinnamon, ground cumin or ground allspice. Ourselves, we usually add cumin, when making another traditional dish, called soutzoukakia (and lots of it).
The final mixture isn't very firm in this recipe, but this is normal and totally expected. The Greek meatballs are supposed to be a bit loose. That’s why you roll the meatballs in flour before frying them, in order to help them keep their shape and form a crust while frying.
The secret for tasty meatballs is to allow the flavors to develop. You must leave the mixture in the fridge for at least an hour. It’s even better if you leave it overnight, making this a great make ahead recipe as well.
So let’s see how to make delicious Greek meatballs (keftedakia)!
- 500g / 17.5oz / 1.1lb ground beef
- 120-150g / 4-5oz (1 medium sized) onion, grated
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- 100g / 3.5oz (2 slices) bread (preferably stale)
- 1 medium egg
- 5g / 0.15oz (about 10 large leaves) fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 15g / 0.5oz (4 tablespoons) fresh parsley, finely chopped
- salt, pepper
- about 1 cup all purpose flour, for coating
- olive oil for frying (you can also use another vegetable oil like sunflower oil)
(the above make about 24 meatballs)
For the yogurt sauce (optional):
- 200g / 7oz Greek yogurt
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
- 4 leaves of mint, finely chopped
Preparation: Mix the ingredients for the yogurt sauce with a spoon, in medium sized bowl. Once everything is incorporated, cover the bowl with film and place it in the fridge.
Soak the bread in water (you can also use milk) for about 5 minutes. With your hands, squeeze the water (or milk) out.
Put all the ingredients (except the flour and the oil for frying) in a large bowl (pic. 1). Mix well with your hands. Knead for about 3-4 minutes.
Cover the bowl with film (pic. 2) and place it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Remove from the fridge, drain the excess liquid from the bowl, if any. Take about 2 tablespoons from the mixture and roll it on your palms, shaping it into a small ball (pic. 3). Roll each meatball in the flour to coat (pic. 4). Pat lightly to remove the excess flour and set aside.
Continue the same process, until all the mixture is shaped into meatballs (pic. 5). Heat about 1.5-2cm / 0.5inch of olive oil in a frying pan and place over medium high heat. The oil should be deep enough to cover the meatballs at least up to half their height (pic. 6). Of course you can also add more oil if you prefer making them deep fried.
When the oil is hot add the meatballs in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry until browned underneath (about 3-4 minutes), flip them over and continue frying until they’re brown on the other side as well. Remove and place them on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
Serve the meatballs with Greek yogurt sauce (or tzatziki), Horiatiki Greek salad and French fries. Kali oreksi!
1. The traditional Greek meatballs are always fried. You can also bake them in the oven though. Spray a baking dish/pan with olive oil and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes in 200 degrees Celsus/390 Fahrenheit. Flip them halfway through to get a wonderful crisp on both sides.
2. Be generous with the salt and the pepper. Add at least 1 teaspoon of salt per 500g / 1.1lb of ground meat, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
3. Make sure the oil is hot before adding the meatballs.
4. You can also use this yogurt sauce for burgers.
5. You can also add a dash of ouzo in the ground beef mixture. The taste is amazing!