Soutzoukakia (Greek Smyrna meatballs) in tomato sauce

Soutzoukakia (Greek Smyrna meatballs) in tomato sauce

Photo and text by Panos Diotis and Mirella Kaloglou

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A Greek traditional spicy recipe which is enjoyed throughout the year, but it's especially popular in the winter. Soutzoukakia is a meatballs dish originated in the East by Greeks from Smyrna or Constantinople (today Izmir/Istanbul), in Minor Asia. Soon the recipe became very popular in the rest of the country and remains so to this day.

As a result of its popularity, it is cooked in various ways, and many families have their own special secret way of cooking these meatballs. Others use lamb, others beef, others pork, others use various ground meat mixtures. Let's see the recipe we'd like to suggest to you, which is one of our all time favorites! It may take a little time to cook this but try it out and the amazing taste of the result will make it worth!



- 250gr/8.8oz ground beef
- 250gr/8.8oz ground lamb*
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 200gr/7oz bread (about 7-8 slices), whole-wheat preferably
- 4-5 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar
- 250ml (1 cup) olive oil
- salt, pepper

For the sauce:
- 1 large onion (150gr/5.3oz), finely chopped
- 125ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
- 300gr/10.5oz fresh tomatoes, grated
- 70gr/2.5oz tomato paste (3 tablespoons)
- 60ml (1/4 cup) white wine
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 pinch of ground cinnamon
- 2 allspice seeds
- salt, pepper

*Usually you have to go to a local butcher shop to ask for a lamb's thigh to be boned (fillet) in order to use it for the ground lamb meat. Butchers at supermarkets are reluctant to do this. If you can't find ground lamb then use 500gr/17.5oz ground beef -in total- in this recipe, with a different (but also tasty) result.


Preparation: Start with the preparation for the meatballs; Put the bread in a large bowl and cover it with water. Leave it for a few minutes to soak. Squeeze the bread well to remove any excess water and put it in a large second bowl. Add the 2 types of ground meat, the garlic, the vinegar, the cumin, salt and pepper. Knead the ingredients for 2-3 minutes, to combine them, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least 40 minutes.

Start making the sauce, while the ground meat mixture is in the fridge.
Put the olive oil either in a frying pan or a small pot/skillet and put it on medium to high heat. Once hot, add the onion and saute until light brown (about 4 minutes).

Add the wine, and once it evaporates add the tomatoes and all the spices, salt and pepper.Lower the heat to medium and stirring occasionally, cook until the sauce thickens. It will take 10-15 minutes, having the pan/pot half-covered. When the sauce is ready put it aside to cool.

Take the ground meat mixture out of the fridge (after the 40 minutes have passed). Using your hands form small cylinders from the meat mixture, about 10cm/4 inches long by 3cm(about an inch) wide.

When you have used all of the mixture, put the olive oil in a 28cm/11 inches frying pan and put it on medium-high heat. Start frying the meatballs, turning them over every 2 minutes so that they are properly fried on all sides. It will take about 5-8 minutes for each full pan (you 'll refill the pan around 2 more times to fry them all). Put the fried meatballs in large plate on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil.

When all the meatballs are ready, serve them using one of the following ways:
a) either drizzle with a tablespoon of tomato sauce each meatball or b) put all the meatballs in the pot with the sauce, and carefully fold them in until coated.
Always serve with rice or mashed potatoes. Some people also like to serve them with french fries, which is also a tasty combination. Enjoy!



Instead of water, you can soak the bread in milk. The result is slightly fluffier meatballs.


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