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    Greek Meatballs (Soutzoukakia)

    Soutzoukakia Smyrneika, or just Soutzoukakia… Sweet dreams are made of these!

    I promise you, these Greek meatballs are much, much easier to cook than trying to pronounce them. If you really want to impress those already wowed people who have had just one bite into them, here is how to pronounce Soutzoukakia:

    These plump oblong shaped meatballs are packed with loads of aromatics and fresh herbs, smothered in a cinnamon-y wine enhanced rich tomato sauce laced with cumin… Ahmm, so not Greek.

    Yes, these meatballs have a Turkish origin. But they are embraced and beloved by Greeks so much that they became one of their comfort foods in no time. These meatballs could be yours, just read on…

    soutzoukakia in tomato sauce in a stainless steel skillet.

    Greek Style Meatballs…

    • They are made oblong, instead of round…
    • They have some more spices, instead of just a few herbs…
    • They are eaten with rice instead of pasta…
    • Interesting? You might ask me how they are different from your familiar marinara Italian Style Meatballs.

    What are Soutzoukakia?

    When the food traditions from the Ottoman empire influenced the Greeks of Constantinople, you get Soutzoukakia.

    Soutzoukakia Smyrneika, that’s the full name. These meatballs arrived in Greece from Asia Minor, or present day Turkey. The “Smyrneika” in the name is for Smyrna, or present day Izmir, Turkey.

    When the Turks burned Smyrna in 1922 (ending the Greco-Turkish war), the Greek refugees brought this recipe back to Greece. A century later, this is one of the most popular comfort foods that you find in households and taverns all over Greece.

    Soutzoukakia vs Keftedes

    Ah, the eternal Greek culinary debate: Soutzoukakia vs. Keftedes! While both dishes are Greek meatball delicacies, they have their unique characteristics that set them apart.

    • Spices: The soul of Soutzoukakia is in the spices like cinnamon and cumin, whereas Keftedes are usually less spiced and may feature mint or parsley as the standout herbs.
    • Shape: Soutzoukakia are typically oblong or football-shaped, while Keftedes are traditionally round.
    • Sauce: Soutzoukakia luxuriate in a rich tomato sauce, whereas Keftedes are usually served without a sauce, often accompanied by tzatziki on the side.

    They’re both amazing meatballs. I have a cracking good Keftedes Recipe that you should definitely check out, but for now let’s get back to the Soutzoukakia…

    Soutzoukakia arranged on a metal tray and garnished with pine nuts and feta cheese.

    Ingredients Needed

    For the Meatballs

    • Ground beef – Some fat is good in ground beef when you are making meatballs, so don’t go for too lean of meat. 85/15 is perfect. Some days you can make these with half ground beef and half ground pork, which is very traditional. It is also common to make them out of ground lamb.
    • Bread – The secret to make them juicy and soft.
    • Milk – To soak the bread in.
    • Garlic – Finely chopped.
    • Eggs – To act as a binder.
    • Herbs and spices – Cumin, dried oregano, cinnamon, fresh parsley, salt and pepper.
    • Wine – Yes, a little… 🙂

    For the sauce

    • Onion – Spanish or white, chopped.
    • Garlic – Finely chopped.
    • Tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
    • Red wine – Quite a splash.
    • Herbs and spices – Bay leaf, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper and sugar.

    Simple, huh? Yes, it’s a pretty straightforward recipe.

    Easy Soutzoukakia Recipe

    These meatballs can be cooked on stovetop, baked, or cooked in a slow cooker. Here we’ll go over the stovetop method. Later in the post you can find the other methods.

    1. Prep the meatball mixture: First, I soak bread slices in milk for a few minutes until they’re nice and soggy. Then, I squeeze out the excess milk with my hands. After that, I mix the bread with the ground meat and all the other meatball ingredients, making sure everything’s well combined.

    Meat mixture in a bowl.

    2. Shape the meatballs: When it’s time to cook, I shape them into oblong football shapes instead of spheres. That’s the classic look!

    Twelve football shaped meatballs on a white tray.

    3. Brown the meatballs: I heat up some oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and fry the meatballs until they’re nicely browned all over. Then, I plate them out.

    Cooked meatballs on a plate.

    4. Create the sauce: In the same pan, I remove any excess oil and sauté the onion and garlic until they become translucent. Then, I add in the bay leaf and tomato sauce, seasoning it with salt, pepper, cumin, and cinnamon.

    After cooking for about 5 minutes, I pour in the wine and let it simmer for an additional 10 minutes. I taste and adjust the seasoning as needed, adding sugar if necessary to balance the tanginess from the tomatoes. Finally, I return the meatballs to the pan.

    Meatballs added in to the tomato sauce in a skillet.

    5. Simmer: Once I add the meatballs back into the pan, I let them simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. This allows the flavors from the sauce to fully absorb into the meatballs.

    The same skillet of meatballs after cooking a bit.

    6. Serve and enjoy!

    Greek Meatballs in the Oven

    I cooked the meatballs this way the first time I tried them, and completely fell in love with them. This is a little lighter version, as they’re not fried.

    I place the raw meatballs in a greased baking dish and pour the sauce over them. Then, I bake them uncovered for 45-50 minutes in a preheated oven at 400°F.

    Casserole dish of baked Soutzoukakia.

    It’s safe when the raw meatballs cook along with the sauce, as everything bakes together to a proper temperature. Just keep an eye on them and bake until they’re brown all over and have reached an internal temperature of 165°F.

    Slow Cooker Method

    I shape the meatballs and place them in a greased crock. Then, I pour the prepared tomato sauce over them. I let them cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours.

    Soutzoukakia in a crock pot.

    Lazy Day Method

    If some days I don’t feel like making sauce from scratch, I’ll grab whatever store brand spaghetti sauce I have in my pantry. I heat it up in a saucepan and season it with cumin, cinnamon, and sometimes a bit of sugar, depending on its natural sweetness. Then, I drizzle in some wine and let it simmer for 10 minutes. It’s our little secret; no one will guess it’s not made from scratch.

    Six of these tasty Greek meatballs in a black bowl and garnished pine nuts.

    Alpana’s Tips

    • If I have time, I let the meatball mixture sit in the fridge for a few hours. It helps the flavors blend and makes shaping the meatballs easier.
    • I always avoid overworking the meat mixture. That way, the meatballs stay tender and juicy.
    • For a yummy tomato sauce, I use whole canned San Marzano tomatoes and crush them by hand in a bowl.
    • If you happen to have fresh oregano on hand, use 1.5 tablespoons in place of the dried.
    • I like to mix up the meats too. Sometimes I use a combo of beef and pork, or beef and lamb, for extra flavor.
    • Go with a decent quality wine, something you won’t mind drinking the leftovers. 😉

    Serving Suggestions

    If you want to eat like the locals, serve them over a plateful of rice to make that Greek night happen.

    Nestle the meatballs over rice with a generous amount of that luscious tomato sauce. You can drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on some parsley. If you happen to have some pine nuts or feta cheese, they compliment these meatballs great.

    Saying rice is the first option, if you feel like some pasta who is stopping you? They are your meatballs after all.

    It’s very common to serve them with some form of potatoes. Try them with Mashed Potatoes or Steak Fries.

    I can see them great in between some bread. That meatball sub…YUUUMMM

    They can be part of some Mezze platter as an appetizer. Pair them with pita bread along with some Greek dips like Tyrokafteri, Tzatziki or Melitzanosalata.

    For a low carb option, serve them with cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles.

    However you serve them, don’t forget a Greek Horiatiki Salad on the side!

    One last look at that skillet full of Soutzoukakia.

    The next time you’re thinking of meatballs, try these football shaped flavor bombs. Bake them for an easy night, or take the help of your crock pot.

    GypsyPlate has brought this specialty right to your kitchen. Now they are all yours…

    Soutzoukakia on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!

    The black bowl of meatballs atop the Gypsy Plate.

    Try these other authentic Greek recipes!
    Fasolada (Greek Bean Soup)
    Psari Plaki (Baked White Fish)
    Fasolakia (Greek Green Beans)
    Greek Lemon Rice
    Chicken Souvlaki
    Shrimp Saganaki
    Lamb Kleftiko
    Moussaka

    Featured image for Soutzoukakia post.

    Soutzoukakia (Greek Meatballs)

    Yield: 6 servings
    Prep Time: 5 minutes
    Cook Time: 45 minutes
    Total Time: 50 minutes

    These football shaped Greek style meatballs, Soutzoukakia, are smothered in a cinnamon-y wine enhanced tomato sauce laced with cumin. You're gonna keep coming back to this one!

    Ingredients

    For meatballs

    • 2 slices bread
    • ½ cup milk
    • 1.5 pounds ground beef
    • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
    • 1.5 tsp dried oregano
    • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
    • 2 eggs
    • 2 Tbsp red wine
    • ½ tsp pepper
    • ½ tsp salt

    For tomato sauce

    • 2 Tbsp oil
    • 1 medium onion
    • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 2 15oz cans tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
    • 1 cup red wine
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • ½ tsp cinnamon
    • sugar, to taste
    • salt, to taste
    • pepper, to taste

    Instructions

    Preparation

    1. Soak the bread in milk in a bowl for a few minutes. Squeeze the milk from the bread with your hands and mix the bread with meat and other meatball ingredients. You can omit bread altogether for a low carb option. Combine everything well but do not over mix it. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Form meatballs shaping them oblong or football shaped.

    Stove Top Method

    1. Heat ¼ cup oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the meatballs and cook until browned on all sides. Do not over crowd, work in batches if necessary. Remove them to a plate. 
    2. Add onion to the pan and sauté till onion is translucent. Add in garlic and sauté for a minute. 
    3. Add in tomato sauce along with bay leaf, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for couple of minutes. Add in wine and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered. Add in sugar and taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
    4. Return the meatballs back into the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes uncovered.
    5. Serve immediately.

    Baking Method

    1. Pre heat the oven to 400°F.
    2. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté till onion is translucent. Add in garlic and sauté for a minute. Add in tomato sauce along with bay leaf, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for couple of minutes. Add in wine and simmer for 15 minutes. Add in sugar and taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
    3. Place the raw meatballs in a well greased baking dish. Pour the tomato sauce all over the meatball. Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes.

    Crock Pot Method

    1. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté till onion is translucent. Add in garlic and sauté for a minute. Add in tomato sauce along with bay leaf, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for couple of minutes. Add in wine and simmer for 15 minutes. Add in sugar and taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
    2. Place raw meatballs in greased crock pot. Pour prepared tomato sauce over meatballs and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8 hours.

    Notes

    1. For the best tasting tomato sauce, use whole canned San Marzano tomatoes and crush them by hand in a bowl.
    2. For lazy days, use your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce and add cumin and cinnamon.
    3. Soutzoukakia are typically served with white rice, but they're also great with pasta, bread or mashed potatoes.
    4. For food safety, always make sure the meatballs have reached 165°F when measured at their thickest part with an instant read thermometer.
    5. Leftovers: If you haven't already gobbled them all up, your can refrigerate your leftover Soutzoukakia in an airtight container for 3-4 days. They can also be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge.

      Reheat in a skillet over medium heat, adding a little extra water if the sauce has dried out.

    Nutrition Information
    Yield 6 Serving Size 1
    Amount Per Serving Calories 517Total Fat 27gSaturated Fat 9gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 15gCholesterol 165mgSodium 1201mgCarbohydrates 23gFiber 4gSugar 10gProtein 37g

    Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.

    Did you make this recipe?

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    Picture of Alpana, blogger and recipe developer at GypsyPlate

    Welcome to GypsyPlate! I'm Alpana, former wordwide tour manager and professional caterer, now full time blogger. I love exploring cuisines from around the world, and my recipes have been featured on sites such as MSN, Parade, Brit + Co, CNET and AOL. You can explore my entire collection of sortable recipes in my Recipe Index or learn more about me here.

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