Keftedes / Meatballs
The first Greek cookbook I ever owned, in the late sixties, Greek Cooking for the Gods by Eva Zane, had a recipe for keftedes, made with ground beef, that was easy, affordable, and delicious. And because almost everything else in the book either required a level of cooking skill I didn’t possess back then or an ingredient that would have seemed “expensive,” it’s pretty much the only dish I learned to cook from the book. (The walnut cake recipe was good too, I remember now.)
The book is long gone, but keftedes are something I continue to cook every once in a while. They’re still easy, affordable, and delicious, and people always enjoy them. In Greece, keftedes are usually made with ground beef, but since lamb has become popular in this country more recently, I often use that and have been happy with it. This is a very forgiving recipe, one that can be lost and reinvented continuously. Sometimes I do one or more of the following: leave out the egg, switch the herbs, grate the onion and don’t bother to sauté it, add a bit of lemon zest or vinegar, use crumbled saltines or dry bread crumbs instead of fresh bread. The one constant reminder is to use the best quality lean meat you can for keftedes.
- ¾ lb lean ground beef or lamb
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 2 slices of good-quality white French-style bread, crusts trimmed
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano or marjoram, chopped, or ½ teaspoon dried
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped (optional)
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking the meatballs
- ½ cup flour for dredging
- Sauté the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil, until translucent. Remove to a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients and let it cool.
- While the onion is sautéing, tear the bread into pieces, put it in a small bowl, and cover with water and let it soak until it’s soft. Then remove it from the water and squeeze it dry.
- Mix together the meat, onion, bread, egg, herbs, salt, and pepper.
- Spread the flour out on a plate or flat surface. Form individual meatballs by rolling a couple tablespoons of meat mixture at a time in your hands into balls. You should end up with maybe 15 to 20 meatballs. Flatten them out a little and dredge them in the flour.
- Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and sauté the meatballs on both sides, in batches so that they’re not crowded, adding more oil between batches (or sides) as necessary. Cook them till they’re nice and brown on each side, but don’t let them get dried out. Tzatziki, or a sauce of plain yogurt stirred with a little olive oil, herb, and salt, is nice alongside this.
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