Soutzoukakia

Soutzoukakia are tasty Greek, oblong-shaped meatballs that reveal a bit of the influence Turkey had on the country in previous eras. They’re served with a tomato sauce usually over rice or sometimes mashed potatoes.

The organization through which I did my studies in Greece sends newsletters every quarter or so. Each one has a recipe, supposedly ones that were tried out by students studying in Greece. Unfortunately, these recipes often have the same problems of my Greek cookbook. Said cookbook was only marginally better on this recipe. So for our Greek feast, I did a combination of the two recipes, and it turned out pretty well.

It will seem as though there’s an excessive amount of parsley in this recipe. Don’t worry: it cooks down, and it takes a lot to get a real parsley flavor. And speaking of, a brief note on herbs in Greek cooking. In the whole meal I made, there was absolutely no dill. I don’t know where this idea came from that Greek food is full of dill, but I hardly tasted any of it when I was there. The most commonly used herb is definitely parsley, followed by mint and oregano. At least according to my taste buds.

Servings: 5-6 as a main course, more as appetizers (it should make about 32 large meatballs)

Cooking time: about 2 hours

Ingredients:

Meatballs:

  • 2 lbs ground meat (I used 1 lb pork and 1 lb turkey. Lamb or beef would be more traditional.)
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow or white onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large bunch of fresh parsley (this should make 2-3 cups when chopped)
  • fresh mint, enough to make 1/3 cup when chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano

Sauce:

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (look for ones that don’t have any additives)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, or half a large one (about 1/2 cup chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 scant tsp sugar (Most tomato-based sauces should have sugar to cut the acidity. Chili is the one major exception.)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Dice the onions for the meatballs and put in a large bowl. Mince the garlic for the meatballs and add it to the onions. Chop the parsley and mint, being careful to remove any large stems from them. Toss these with the onions and garlic and the other herbs and spices (salt-oregano).
  2. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with about 1/2 cup water and let stand a few minutes. If it’s not moist all the way through, add more water a tablespoon at a time. Mix with the items in the large bowl.
  3. Prep a very large, oven-safe pan (I used one 11×7 and one 8×8). Preheat the oven to 425. Wash your hands. Add the ground meat to the large bowl. Add the eggs and olive oil. Use your hands to mix everything thoroughly. This is fun! It’s a great way to take out stress, and it’s the best way to get everything thoroughly mixed. You should use this same technique for meatloaf.
  4. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, shape the meatballs into football-like shapes about 2-3 inches long and 1 1/2 inches thick at the thickest part. Try to make your meatballs evenly-sized so they cook evenly. Place each one in the pan, each one lightly touching another. I did three rows in each pan. When all the meatballs are shaped, place the pan(s) in the oven. Bake uncovered 20-25 minutes, until browned on the outside.
  5. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Dice the onion and garlic, and add them to the hot oil. When the onion is translucent, but not caramelized, add the cinnamon and allspice. Cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the tomatoes, water, oregano, sugar and pepper. Let simmer at least five minutes or until the meatballs are browned on the outside. Adjust seasonings, adding salt if necessary (be sure to taste-you don’t know how salty your canned tomatoes might be).
  6. Remove the meatballs from the oven and reduce the heat to 375. Pour the sauce over the meatballs. Cover the pan(s) with foil. Return the pans to the oven and bake 15-25 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through and sauce is bubbly. Serve over rice.

Note: I went all the way through step 6 the night before our dinner, then reheated the meatballs for serving. The sauce will be a bit thick when reheated, so I’d recommend adding about 1/2 cup water to the pan before reheating. There’s no need to mix it; it will mix naturally as the sauce heats.

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