KEFTEDES (kef-TEH-thes)

recipe + photography by BILLY DOUKAS

Traditional Greek Meatballs

My papoo (grandfather) made the best keftedes in the world. Once, in the 1940s, a thief broke into his restaurant and stole all of them—and nothing else! The Press Herald even ran a short humorous piece about the theft. I found this clipping in the attic.

Mild with a specific ratio of spices and onion, these addictive meatballs make a perfect appetizer with a dipping sauce. They’re a crowd-pleasing main course with pasta. Key ingredient: firm sliced bread.

Yield: 24 meatballs, 2½ ounces each

Prep: 30 minutes
Cooking: 40 minutes

8 slices firm sliced bread (white, wheat or your favorite)*
1 large sweet or yellow onion, chopped fine
2 pounds ground beef (or lamb), 80–85% lean 
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons black pepper
4 tablespoons lemon juice, or juice of 1 medium fresh lemon
8 ounces flour (white or whole wheat), in a flat, wide platter 
4 ounces extra-virgin olive oil (with a harvest date), for initial browning
Nonstick cooking spray

Helpful Tools

  • 12-inch, or larger, cast-iron skillet
  • Baking sheet, 21 x 15 inches
  • Digital instant-read meat thermometer

*NOTE: A day prior to cooking/serving, place bread in a bowl. Do not cover. Leave overnight on the counter.

Peel onions, finely chop them and set aside. Trim crusts from bread slices; place the slices in a bowl and add a small amount of water to moisten. Place beef (or lamb) and onions in a separate large bowl. Squeeze the water out of bread slices and combine with meat. Mix meat, onion and bread very thoroughly with your hands.

Whisk eggs thoroughly and add to mixture. Add parsley, oregano, garlic, cinnamon, salt, pepper and lemon juice; mix well using your hands. Refrigerate uncovered for approximately ½ hour. Meanwhile, get ready to shape and cook your meatballs!

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat oil to medium heat, while preheating the oven to broil (550°F). Lightly spray the baking sheet with the nonstick cooking spray

Using your hands, shape the meat mixture into balls about the size of an egg. Roll in flour to lightly coat on all sides. Working in batches, place meatballs in the hot skillet—don’t crowd. Using tongs, rotate meatballs every 1 to 2 minutes to brown the outside evenly. After 5 to 6 minutes, carefully remove meatballs and place on the baking sheet a couple inches apart. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place sheet of browned meatballs on center rack in preheated oven. Broil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reaches a minimum internal temperature of 160℉ and up to 175℉ (for best tasting). Proceed similarly with the next batch or two. Place the meatballs on a serving dish or platter, arranging them in your own unique way, and serve promptly while still hot.

Serve keftedes with a red sauce or your favorite side: a tzatziki (cucumber/yogurt) sauce, or a dish of lightly buttered orzo or pasta. Beer is a very apropos choice for Greek meatballs.

For wine, go with a fruity red such as Cotes-du-Rhone, a Shiraz or a California Zinfandel. The lamb meat alternative would pair well with a Pinot Noir.

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