Meatballs are one of my favorite comfort foods. I like them every kind of way: in a traditional Québécois stew, spiked with ginger and sesame in an Asian-style soup, or served on top of spaghetti sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano. When I traveled to Greece, I had the pleasure of discovering they were often served as a mezze, slathered in a thick tomato sauce and drizzled with lemon juice. It was so simple, but a light bulb still went off in my head.
These Greek meatballs are tender and moist, and they include more spices that you may be used to, which make them very fragrant and somewhat intriguing. I like to serve them with steamed rice and a salad for a light but satisfying meal. When I have some in the fridge, I top the meatballs with crumbled feta cheese; the briny and salty kick of the cheese only enhances the deep flavors of the sauce. In any case, do as the Greek do and always serve these with lemon, they simply shouldn’t be enjoyed without!
2 tbsp [30 ml] fresh mint, finely chopped
5 tbsp [60 ml] extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
2 tbsp [30 ml] dried oregano
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] ground cinnamon
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] cayenne pepper
1 medium red onion, grated
1 large egg and 1 yolk, beaten
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup [125 ml] milk
3 ½”-thick slices stale country bread, crusts removed
½ lb [227 g] ground lamb
½ lb [227 g] ground pork
½ cup [125 ml] flour, for dredging
4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tbsp [22 ml] tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 28-oz [828 ml] can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and puréed
1 cup [250 ml] beef broth
1 tbsp [15 ml] fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp [30 ml] chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
In a medium bowl, combine chopped fresh mint, 2 tbsp [30 ml] oil, 1 tbsp [15 ml] oregano, half the cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne pepper, grated red onion and eggs; season with salt and pepper. Put milk and bread in a bowl. Press down so the bread absorbs as much milk as possible. Let soak 5 minutes. Drain bread; squeeze out milk. Mix bread, onion mixture, and meat.
Divide mixture into 20 balls; flatten slightly into patties or roll into ovals. Dredge each meatball in flour. In a 12” skillet, pour enough oil to cover its bottom with a thin layer of oil; heat over medium-high heat. Working in 3 batches, cook meatballs until browned, 6–8 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towels and reserve. Discard oil; wipe out skillet.
Heat remaining oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and bay leaves; cook 2 minutes. Add remaining oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg, along with the tomatoes and broth. Cook, stirring, until thickened, 15–20 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Nestle meatballs in sauce; cook until sauce coats meatballs, about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.
Serve with steamed rice and a greek salad.
Recipe Credit: Adapted from Todd Coleman, Saveur Magazine.