Keftedes are Greek meatballs that are packed with delicious flavor. They are juicy and aromatic with mint and perfect to snack on with other mezze, or enjoy with tzatziki and bread as a wrap.
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Meatballs come in so many shapes and sizes that even if you think you don't like them, it might just be you haven't found the right one yet. My eldest son, for example, was unsure about some we had not too long ago from a store, but these ones he instantly loved. And I can understand why.
These tasty little bites are gently aromatic from mint and lovely and moist. They're great to prepare ahead and enjoy as an appetizer or main as well.
What are Greek meatballs made with?
Keftedes are typically made with either beef, pork or a combination of the two. Sometimes they are made with veal instead. Despite lamb being a popular meat in Greek cooking, it's not typically used in these.
In terms of flavor additions, they can vary a little but pretty much all will include mint and often other herbs like parsley and/or oregano. Some versions include a little cumin, but this is more typical of Cypriot meatballs rather than Greek ones. Onion (often red) and a little garlic add a little flavor as well, although neither dominate.
The other typical additions are little tricks to keep them moist: a little olive oil and typically milk or water-soaked bread. Some use breadcrumbs instead, but the soaked bread is both easier in some ways and helps keep the meatballs moist.
Finally, many recipes include a little red wine vinegar and/or ouzo. Both add a little extra dimension to the flavor, though again without taking over. A little egg to bring it all together and that's it. I say add egg, though you may find, as I did, that you don't actually need it as it all holds together and is moist enough without.
Tips for making and cooking these meatballs
These generally comes together easily but a few tips to help them work out perfectly:
- Grate the onion, if your eyes can cope, to get the pieces really small and even.
- Remove tough crusts from the bread before you soak it to help ensure what you use breaks up easily, then drain it well before adding to the rest of the mixture. You want it softened, but not wet.
- Use your hands to mix. As with many meatballs, there is no better tool than your hands to get everything well mixed together.
- Let the mixture chill before dividing. This helps the flavors mingle and the cooler mixture is easier to roll.
- Roll the meatballs in flour but shake off excess - I like to bounce them in my hand so the flour falls through my fingers.
- While these are typically fried, you can also bake them in the oven. They just won't be as caramelized/crisp on the outside.
Can you make these ahead?
Yes, you can prepare the meatballs ahead of time and then refrigerate them for a few hours. If you roll them in flour when you prepare them, it will soak a little of the moisture as they rest. This may mean they are not quite as crisp but it doesn't take away from their tasty flavor so it's a minor trade off.
You can freeze extra uncooked meatballs, just I'd recommend you don't flour them before you freeze them as the flour will likely become paste-like as they defrost. To freeze, just place the un-floured meatballs in a single layer of a baking sheet/tray in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag or container. Then defrost overnight in the fridge, roll in flour and cook as usual when you need them.
Also, if you have leftover cooked meatballs these re-heat pretty well. The oil and other additions that keep them moist mean they are don't dry out on re-heating. You can either re-heat in the microwave or crisp them up in a little oil in a skillet (you won't need much oil).
These Greek meatballs, keftedes, are a wonderful combination of flavors that are sure to be a crowd-pleaser. It might seem like a few ingredients, but each adds that little something and they come together easily. Gently aromatic, moist and versatile, these are little bites of deliciousness.
Try these other Greek favorites:
- Youvetsi (Greek lamb or beef and orzo stew)
- Tiropita (cheese-filled filo pastry bites)
- Baklava (a delicious pastry and nut-layered treat)
- Plus get more Greek recipes in the archives.
Keftedes - Greek meatballs
- 2 oz bread 55g, approx 2 slices (not crusty)
- ½ cup milk 120ml
- ½ red onion
- 1 clove garlic small
- ½ lb ground beef 225g beef mince
- ½ lb ground pork 225g pork mince
- 1 tbsp mint (fresh, finely chopped amount)
- 1 tbsp parsley (fresh, finely chopped amount)
- 1 tsp fried oregano
- 1 tbsp olive oil virgin or extra virgin
- ½ tbsp red wine vinegar
- ¼ tsp salt approx
- ¼ tsp pepper approx
- ¼ cup flour 35g, approx
- oil for frying (olive oil/vegetable/canola as you prefer or a mixture)
- Place the bread in a bowl, slightly broken up, and pour over the milk. Leave it to soak a few minutes while you prepare other ingredients.
- Grate the red onion and mince or finely grate the garlic. Finley chop the mint and parsley.
- Place the beef, pork, onion, garlic, mint, parsley, oregano, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl. Squeeze out the milk from the bread with your hands (don't go overboard, just have it pretty well drained) and add the bread to the bowl with everything else.
- Mix everything together so that it is well combined - it's best to do this at least partly with your hands as you need to break up the meats and bread so they mix properly. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for around 30 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.
- Prepare a small plate with flour on it for rolling and have a baking sheet or plate to put the meatballs on. Take roughly tablespoonfuls of the mixture and roll in your hands to form a ball. Roll it in the flour to coat on all sides then shake off excess flour and place on the baking sheet/plate. Repeat with the rest of the mixture (you should get around 24).
- Warm a skillet/frying pan over a medium-high heat with a shallow layer of oil in it - you can use olive oil, canola or vegetable oil as you prefer or a mixture. You can use a large skillet to cook more at once or smaller if you prefer to not have to work as quick in turning them all etc.
- Add some of the meatballs to the skillet with space between them so you don't overcrowd the skillet. Increase the heat a little if needed as the meatballs will reduce the heat and you want the oil to stay hot. Cook the meatballs around 2-3 minutes on each side and turn at least 2 or 3 times so that they are nicely browned and slightly crisp all over. A good sign that they are ready to turn is they should move without being stuck to the pan.
- Once they are browned all over and cooked through, remove from the pan, draining with a slotted spoon or with spoon tilted to side, then drain the meatballs on kitchen paper to remove any excess oil. Repeat with the rest of the meatballs. Best served warm but also work at room temperature.
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I have drawn on a few recipes for these, including this The Greek foodie recipe.