Greek meatballs or keftedes are often called the national Greek food. These crunchy but fluffy meatballs are delicious with lots of fresh herbs and aromatics. Perfect for a quick snack, a tasty appetizer, or the star of the table.
Why this recipe sings
These keftedes are crunchy and delicious on the outside but soft on the inside. With ground beef and pork, mixed with fresh herbs, like mint, basil, and parsley, as well as a shot of Ouzo, the meatballs are fragrant and tasty. They are fried in light olive oil (can also be baked) and can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.
Here is what you need
- Ground beef & pork. Each cut gives a perfect balance of flavor.
- White bread with crust cut off. You can also use brioche bread, it is lovely with this meatball recipe.
- Whole milk. To soak the bread.
- Onions and garlic. Grated onions add flavor and makes moist juicy metaballs.
- Fresh spearmint, parsley and oregano. Herbs give such a lovely summery note to the meatballs. You can substitute the spearmint with mint.
- Extra virgin olive oil. Just a tablespoon or two in the mixture.
- A little vinegar and a shot of ouzo (optional), the popular alchoholic drink that tastes like licorice. Replace the ouzo with a teaspoon of ground aniseed or omit it from the recipe.
- Dried oregano, mint, chili flakes and ground cumin. Dried herbs have a more intense flavor than fresh. I like to use both versions.
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
- All purpose flour. To lightly dust the meatballs. It creates a light crust on the meatballs when fried.
Step by step
Soak the bread in the milk.
Carefully squish the bread, so most of the milk is out. It's ok if the bread feels like it still has some milk left over. The goal is to have a moist, fluffy meatball mixture.
In a large bowl, add the bread and all the other ingredients.
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.
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.
I use a small ice-cream scooper, about two tbsp in size, to take some of the mixture and shape it into a ball. You can use a tablespoon or your hands.
Spread some flour on a plate. Run the meatballs in the flour.
Shake off the excess and place them on a clean plate 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 high. When the oil is hot, fry meatballs in small doses, about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
Remove from heat with a slotted spoon and arrange them on absorbent paper to drain the excess oil.
What to eat with keftedes
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.
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.
Greek meatballs make a great addition to a Mediterranean meze platter board.
Tips & 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.
Because I love the flavor the olive oil gives to the meatballs, I get the extra light olive oil for frying. But it is not necessary and can be costly. You can use sunflower oil or the vegetable oil of your choice.
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, remove 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.
Greek Meatballs - Keftedes
- Deep frying pan
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 8 slices white bread with the crust cut off.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 large onion grated. Keep the juices. I usually go for red onions.
- 2 cloves garlic minced.
- 1 cup fresh spearmint leaves finely chopped.
- 1 cup fresh parsley finely chopped.
- ½ cup fresh oregano leaves roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried spearmint or mint
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon red chili flakes
- 1 shot ouzo or 1-2 tsp ground aniseed. Optional.
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- Soak the bread in the milk. Carefully squish the bread so most of the milk is out.
- 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. Mix everything and knead 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 have ouzo, substitute with 1-2 tsp ground anise seeds or ground star anise. If none are available, omit them 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 or hot Italian ground sausage to give a nice kick to the 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 coriander to the mixture.