Greek Meatballs (Keftedes)
Are you head-over-heels in love with meatballs? No? I was never a big meatball fan either. But then Mama made greek meatballs, and I found myself in an alternate meatball universe. These weren’t meatballs so much as they were fluffy meat clouds with a crispy crust that released a minty oregano-scented steam when pierced. You may think this hyperbole; if so, just try them.
I should probably mention that this is not one of the quick and simple greek recipes. It’s not particularly difficult in the sense of requiring arcane cooking skills, but it does require a bit of time. Don’t come home from work at 6 pm and expect to have these on the table before everybody goes to bed famished and angry. I like to mix up a batch on a Friday because I get home earlier than usual, and then the meat mixture sits in the refrigerator until the next day when I have time to roll out the meatballs and fry them up.
I can’t tell you exactly how long the prepping takes because I take a lot of sitting-down-to-check-my-email breaks while I’m cooking. I can tell you that it takes about 45 minutes to roll out the meatballs and about 45 minutes to fry them. This works out great if you have a helper. Usually I roll and Zoe fries; I get a head start as she waits for the oil to heat up, and then she finishes the last batch of meatballs about 10 minutes after I rolled them.
By the way, Mama is renowned as an amazing meatball maker amongst all her friends and family in Greece. This is not just any old Greek meatball recipe, it is Mama’s exact kefted recipe, coveted by many, known by few.
The Meat Mixture:
1 lb ground beef
2 large onions or 3 medium (about 1 1/4 pounds), chopped as finely as you can stand to chop them
1 bunch parsley, chopped finely
fresh oregano, 40 tips from the garden, minced, or 1 TB crumbled dried oregano (not powdered)
fresh mint, 40 tips from the garden, or about 1/2 to 3/4 oz by weight from the store, either way approximately 1/4 - 1/2 cup minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
5 slices french bread, (approximately 6 oz) soaked in water or milk and wrung out
1 greek coffee cup ouzo (summer) or red wine or beer (winter) (1 greek coffee cup = 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Mix thoroughly with your hands and refrigerate at least half an hour or overnight. When you do this it will seem like there’s not much meat in the mixture as compared to the other stuff. Don’t worry, that’s why these are so good and flavorful.
Form the Meatballs:
Put a generous layer of flour in a shallow pan and drop spoonfuls of the meat mixture into it. Scoop some flour on top of the meat blobs, then pick them up and roll them between your palms into spheres. This meat mixture is pretty wet, so quite a bit of flour will stick to the meatballs. This is what makes the exquisitely crunchy exterior. How big should the meat mixture spoonfuls be? For small meatballs, scoop out about a teaspoonful, for larger meatballs, scoop out about a tablespoonful. For larger meatballs you should flatten them slightly so they cook through quicker. How do you decide on the size? Well, if you want to totally wow people, make them smaller. That way there’s a more crunchy exterior to set off the fluffy interior, plus they just seem fancier. On the other hand, if you’re just trying to feed people, make them bigger so that you can get them on the table faster.
The three sizes of greek meatballs: fancy, normal and my-back-is-hurting-let’s-get-this-over-with.
Pour at least 2 inches of oil into a deep skillet and heat until it’s about 375 degrees, or until a bit of meat dropped in sizzles immediately and browns quickly. You may need to do some experimenting here if you don’t have a thermometer and you’re as unused to deep frying as I was when I met Zoe and Mama. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it within half-a-dozen meatballs. Fry the meatballs until they turn a golden brown, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon. If you’re unsure as to when to take them out, taste as you go along, and don’t worry, you’ll very quickly get the hang of having them turn out perfectly!
If you can’t eat them all, you can refrigerate the leftovers for a few days. They also freeze very well. Either way, to reheat them put them in a 350 degree oven till they’re hot. Don’t cover them because you want them to recrisp a bit.
Update: Manju at Three Tastes has made Mama’s keftedes and has written a lovely post of her impressions. She reports that it works very well to freeze the meat mixture for frying on another day, which I did not know. This is good news for two reasons:
#1 It’s quite a bit of work to make these, so being able to postpone some of the work to another day is very welcome.
#2 Keftedes are at their best straight from the hot oil, as opposed to being warmed up later.
Manju also has nice photos to show what the meatballs look like being rolled in flour and during frying. Yay, now I don’t have to update my post with more photos!
Here’s the link: Three Tastes - New Worlds of Flavor Learned from You (It’s the third recipe on the page so scroll down a bit, or better yet, enjoy reading the first two recipes!)