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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 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 become one of their comfort foods in no time. These meatballs could be yours, just read on…

    Meatballs 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.

    So what is 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 arranged on a metal tray and garnished with pine nuts and feta cheese.

    This is what you need to make that Greek night happen

    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. 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. For a low carb option, you can omit the bread.
    • Milk – To soak the bread in.
    • Garlic – Finely chopped.
    • Eggs
    • Herbs and spices – Cumin, dried oregano, cinnamon and 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 and cinnamon.
    • Sugar
    • Salt and pepper

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

    You can cook these meatballs four ways

    Yes, we tried all. This is a recipe I didn’t mind creating in different methods, as I always look forward to a heaping bowl of my new favorite meatballs.

    In all the methods, shaping the meatballs and cooking the tomato sauce is the same.

    The secret to make the meatballs juicy

    Use soaked bread or breadcrumbs. You will start by soaking bread slices in some milk for a few minutes. Once the bread is all soggy, squeeze the milk out with your hands.

    Then mix the bread with the ground meat along with the rest of the meatball ingredients. Combine everything well. Don’t over mix or work them too much, as that tends to make the meatballs chewy and tough.

    Meat mixture in a bowl.

    Rest this mixture for a few hours in the refrigerator if you have time. This makes a difference, as all the flavors have time to mingle with each other. It also makes the meatballs easier to form.

    Now let’s discuss how much binding agent you need in the meatball mixture

    This will depend on your cooking method. When you fry the meatballs they need more binding agents Otherwise they can break apart while cooking. If you choose to fry them, you would need 5-6 soaked bread slices, or 1 cup of breadcrumbs.

    If you bake them, you will only need 2 bread slices, as they just cook undisturbed.

    How to make them low carb

    My advice to all low carbers is to bake your soutzoukakia, as they do not need as much binder. You can replace the regular bread with keto friendly bread, or omit it altogether.

    Shaping the meatballs

    Once you are ready to cook, shape them into oblong football shapes, rather than spheres. Yes, that’s how they look!

    Twelve football shaped meatballs on a white tray.

    Now from here, as mentioned above, you can cook them in different ways. It’s all what you feel like that particular day, ’cause I know these are going to become a staple in your home.

    I will start with the most traditional method, cooking on stovetop

    Simply heat up oil in a skillet on medium high heat and fry the meatballs till they are brown all over. Plate them out.

    Cooked meatballs on a plate.

    In the same pan, remove the excess oil and start making that yummy tomato sauce.

    Start by sautéing the onion and garlic till they become translucent. Add in bay leaf and tomato sauce. Season it with salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Cook for 5 minutes.

    Add in wine and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste and season to your liking. Add in sugar to balance the tang from the tomatoes. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the meatballs back in.

    Meatballs added in to the tomato sauce in a skillet.

    Simmer for 15 -20 minutes so the flavors from the sauce get absorbed into the meatballs.

    The same skillet of meatballs after cooking a bit.

    Now coming to the baking method…

    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.

    Place your raw meatballs on a greased baking dish and pour sauce over the meatballs. Bake 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. Bake till they are brown all over and have reached an internal temperature of 160°F.

    If you want to make that crock pot work for you…

    Shape your meatballs and place them in a greased crock. Pour in prepared tomato sauce. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or 7-8 hours on low.

    Soutzoukakia in a crock pot.

    Instant pot method. Yes, you can make them in zippy…

    Mix all ingredients for the meatball and shape them oblong like mentioned above. Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in the pressure cooker on Saute mode. Working in batches, brown the meat balls on all sides and remove them to a plate.

    Add the onion and garlic into the instant pot and sauté till translucent. Add in remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. Return the meatballs into the sauce.

    Lock the lid on your pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for ten minutes. When time is up, let the pressure come down on its own for ten minutes or do a quick release.

    How about I give you a quick fix for the tomato sauce?

    If some days you don’t feel like making sauce from scratch… Go ahead and open whatever store brand spaghetti sauce you have in your pantry. Heat it up in a sauce pan and season with cumin, cinnamon, and depending on the natural sweetness of the sauce, sugar. Drizzle in some wine and simmer for 10 minutes. It’s our little secret, no one will guess that it’s not made from scratch… 🙂

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

    How to serve Soutzoukakia

    1. If you want to eat like the locals, embrace 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.
    2. Saying rice is the first option, if you feel like some pasta who is stopping you? They are your meatballs after all.
    3. It’s very common to serve them with some form of potatoes like parboiled, mashed or even potato fries.
    4. I can see them great in between some bread. That meatball sub…YUUUMMM
    5. They can be part of some Mezze platter as an appetizer. They’re also a great contender for potlucks and parties.
    6. For a low carb option, serve them with cauliflower rice or palmini noodles.

    How to store 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.

    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 or insta. GypsyPlate has brought this speciality right to your kitchen. Now they are all yours…

    Soutzoukakia on my Gypsy Plate… enjoy!

    The black bowl of meatballs atop the Gypsy Plate.

    Try these other great Mediterranean recipes!
    Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers
    Spanish Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)
    Moutabal (Eggplant Dip)
    Fasolada (Greek Bean Soup)
    Mediterranean Fish
    Chermoula Sauce
    Chicken Provençal
    Olive Tapenade
    Psari Plaki (Greek Fish)

    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!


    For meatballs

    • 1.5 lbs ground beef
    • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
    • 1.5 tsp dried oregano
    • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    • 2 eggs
    • 2 Tbsp red wine
    • Bread (see note 1)
    • 1/2 cup milk (omit for keto option)
    • 1/2 tsp pepper
    • 1/2 tsp salt

    For tomato sauce

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



    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 couple of hours. Form meatballs shaping them oblong or football shaped.
    2. To make tomato sauce (see note 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.

    Stove top method

    1. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a pan over medium high heat and fry the meatballs. Do not over crowd, work in batches if necessary. Fry till they are brown on all sides and remove them to a plate.
    2. Prepare the tomato sauce as mentioned above and then return the meatballs back into the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes.

    Baking method

    1. Pre heat the oven to 400°F
    2. 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. 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.

    Instant pot method

    1. Heat 3 TBSP olive oil in the pressure cooker on Saute mode. Working in batches, brown the meat balls on all sides and remove them to a plate.
    2. Add onion and garlic to pressure cooker and sauté till translucent. Add in remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes.
    3. Return the meatballs into the sauce. Lock the lid on your pressure cooker.
    4. Cook on high pressure for ten minutes. When the time is up, let the pressure release naturally for ten minutes or do a quick release.


    1. For stovetop, crockpot or instant pot use 5-6 slices of bread. If baking, not as much binder is needed and you can use 2 slices. For a low carb option, use keto bread or omit altogether (in this case, only the baking method is recommended, otherwise the meatballs may fall apart).
    2. If using instant pot or stovetop method, skip this step for now, as it will come after frying the meatballs.

    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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