Greek meatballs or keftedes are often called the national Greek food. They are easy to make. So fragrant, with lots of fresh mint and parsley, they can be a quick snack, a delicious appetizer, or the star of the table.
What are keftedes made of?
Keftedes are made with ground beef or pork or a combination of the two. The ground meat is mixed with lots of fresh herbs, like mint, basil, parsley, an egg, grated red onion, moist stale bread, and seasonings. A little red wine vinegar can be added to the mix, as well as a shot of Ouzo, the Greek alcoholic drink that tastes like licorice. Garlic is rarely used in traditional keftedes. They are usually pan-fried and can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.
What to serve with Greek meatballs
In Greece, we usually pair them with homemade fries, steamed greens, or a tomato salad. Add some feta cheese, tzatziki sauce, and a couple of pieces of bread, and you have a traditional Greek meal.
As an alternative try is these Greek meatballs in tomato sauce, we call them Soutzoukakia. They are another classic recipe with a middle eastern influence.
I love to eat keftedes the next day. The use of olive oil allows them to hold well and taste really good at room temperature. I usually grab one (or two :-)) with some pita chips as a snack.
Keftedes are great as an appetizer
They taste great at room temperature. Create a Mediterranean style charcuterie board surrounding them with:
- Lots of pita bread cut up in pieces for easy dipping
- Cut up veggies like cucumbers, peppers, carrots
- Cherry tomatoes
- Cured meats, like salami and procchuitto
- Dried or fresh figs a(depending on the season)
- Dips like hummus and tzatziki
- Roasted giant beans
- Soft cheese like feta
- Hard cheese like Cretan graviera or gruyere
Most traditional cooks have their own secrets of achieving a nice crust and a tender, juicy meatball. This Greek meatball recipe is my version of the perfect keftedes 🙂
1. Soak the bread in the milk.
2. Carefully squish the bread, so all the milk is out. I usually press it on a strainer to get as much milk out as possible.
3. In a large bowl, add the bread and all the other ingredients.
4. Add the ouzo shot, my favorite part! Using the ouzo is optional. I love the flavor it gives to the meatballs. You can substitute with 1-2 tsp of ground anise seed or ground star anise.
5. Using your clean hands, mix everything, and knead until the mixture is moist and fluffy. Cover the mix with a towel and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. All the flavors will incorporate together well.
6. I use a small ice-cream scooper, about two tbsp size, to take some of the mixture and shape it into a ball. You can use a spoon or your hands.
7. Spread some flour on a plate. Run the meatballs in the flour.
8. Shake off the excess and place them on a clean plate until all your meatballs are ready for frying.
9. In a deep frying pan, add enough oil to cover ⅔ of the pan. Turn the heat on to high. When the oil is hot, fry meatballs in small doses, about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
10. Remove from heat with a slotted spoon and arrange them on absorbent paper to drain the excess oil.
Helpful Q& A
I use a small ice-cream scooper, about two tbsp size, to shape one meatball, so 4 or 5 keftedes are enough for one person.
Yes, you can!
Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Place meatballs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The parchment paper ensures that the meatballs do not stick to the baking sheet, making clean up really easy. Brush them generously with olive oil and bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned. The frying method is the traditional way, and the meatballs are a little juicier.
I like to do a seasoning test before I shape all my meatballs. I create just one ball, roll it in the flour, and fry it. I taste it to check if I need to add more salt to my mix. Under-seasoning can be an easy miss. One more benefit to this test is knowing how long I need to fry the meatballs to achieve the perfect crispy outside and juicy inside.
You can use canola or corn oil if you prefer; I personally love the flavor the olive oil gives to the meatballs. I get the extra light olive oil for frying.
Yes, they freeze really well. I like to shape them, arrange them on a baking sheet then into the freezer until they are hard for about one hour. I transfer the frozen meatballs into a large-sized freezer-safe bag, seal it removing as much air as possible and place it back in the freezer. They are freezer-safe for up to three to four months.
Always use your hands to mix them. With a light touch, your hands will incorporate all of the ingredients without crushing the meat. You don't want to over-mix.
When it is time to roll the meatballs, lightly oil your hands. The oil will make it easier to roll, and the mixture will not stick to your hands. Alternatively, you can lightly wet your hands.
You may also try
- For a low carb option check these turkey meatballs & gravy.
- A vegetarian version are these kolokythokeftedes- zucchini & feta fritters.
Check all the pantry items a Greek kitchen wouldn’t go without.
Greek Meatballs - Keftedes
- Deep frying pan
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 4-5 slices bread Stale bread with crust cut off.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 onion minced. I usually go for red onions.
- 2 cloves garlic minced.
- 1 cup fresh mint finely chopped.
- 1 cup fresh parsley finely chopped.
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp dry oregano
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 shot ouzo or 1-2 tsp ground aniseed. Optional.
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- olive oil Extra light olive oil for frying.
- finelly chopped fresh mint or parsley optional
- Soak the bread in the milk. Carefully squish the bread so all the milk is out. I usually press it on a strainer to get as much milk out as possible.
- In a large bowl, add the bread and all the other ingredients—season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the ouzo shot or 1-2 tsp ground aniseed—season with salt and pepper. Mix everything and knead very well until the mixture is moist and fluffy.
- Cover with a towel and leave in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow all the flavors to incorporate together well.
- Spread some flour on a plate. Use a small ice-cream scooper or a spoon or your hand and take about 2 tbsp of the mixture and shape it into a ball. Run ball in the flour, shake off the excess, and place on a clean surface until all your meatballs are ready for frying.
- In a deep frying pan, add enough oil to cover ⅔ of the pan. Turn the heat on to medium-high. When the oil is hot, fry the meatballs (in small doses), about 2-3 minutes tops on each side, until golden brown. Remove from heat and arrange them on absorbent paper to drain the excess oil.
- I suggest mincing the onion pretty well. I use my food processor because my knife skills are not perfect for dicing veggies really small. You can also grate it on the large holes of a coarse grater if you don't cry with onions. I cry so much!
- If you don't have ouzo, substitute with 1-2 tsp ground anise seeds or ground star anise. If none are available, omit altogether.
- You can use breadcrumbs if you don't have bread; add about ½ cup of milk to increase the mix's moisture.
- You can substitute ground pork with ground sausage, like a sweet Italian. I sometimes go for hot Italian ground sausage to give a kick to my meatballs.
- If you have ground turkey, use the same ingredients apart from the bread. Substitute with ½ to 1 cup breadcrumbs (depending on how wet the ground turkey is) and add 1 tbsp ground cumin and 1 tbsp ground coriander to the mixture.