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Packed with herbs and spice, soutzoukakia are as light as they are rich
Milk Street Bowtie Greek Meatballs with Tomato Sauce (Soutzoukakia)

Greek Meatballs with Tomato Sauce (Soutzoukakia)

Appears in May-June 2022

1 hour 20 minutes

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Greek Meatballs with Tomato Sauce (Soutzoukakia)

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Known as soutzoukakia, these cigar-shaped meatballs are seasoned with cumin and garlic, then simmered in tomato sauce. The dish has origins in Smyrna, a former Greek settlement and now the Turkish city of Izmir on the Aegean coast. Our recipe is based on the soutzoukakia we learned from Alexandra Manousakis and Afshin Molavi of Manousakis Winery on the Greek island of Crete. Made with a combination of ground lamb and beef, the meatballs have a deep, rich flavor perfectly matched by the tangy-sweet tomato sauce. If you prefer, you can use 1 pound of either type of meat. An instant thermometer is the best way to check the meatballs for doneness; alternatively, cut one open—when done, the center should not be pink. The meatballs are browned on the stovetop, then finish cooking in the same pan in the oven, so you will need a 12-inch oven-safe skillet for this recipe. Soutzoukakia typically are offered as part of a meze spread, but served with rice, they’re a terrific main.

4 to 6

Servings

Tip

Don’t use tongs to turn the meatballs in the skillet. Until they’re browned on all sides, the soutzoukakia are quite delicate and easily marred by tongs. A thin metal spatula is better for rotating them.

1 hour 20 minutes

2 medium yellow onions, peeled
3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, halved
8 ounces 80 percent lean ground beef (see headnote)
8 ounces ground lamb
4 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, divided
3 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 large egg, beaten
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Ingredients
  • 2

    medium yellow onions, peeled

  • 3

    tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • pounds ripe tomatoes, halved

  • 8

    ounces 80 percent lean ground beef (see headnote)

  • 8

    ounces ground lamb

  • 4

    medium garlic cloves, finely grated

  • 4

    tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided

  • 4

    tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, divided

  • 3

    teaspoons dried oregano, divided

  • 1

    teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1

    teaspoon sweet paprika

  • 1

    large egg, beaten

  • 4

    tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 2

    tablespoons tomato paste

Directions
  1. 01
    Set a box grater in a medium bowl. Grate the onions on the large holes down to the root ends; reserve the box grater. Transfer half of the grated onion to a small bowl and set aside for the sauce. To the grated onion in the medium bowl, add the panko and ½ teaspoon salt; stir, then let stand until the panko is softened, about 10 minutes.
  2. 02
    Meanwhile, grate the tomato halves (start with the cut sides against the grater) into another medium bowl; stop when you reach the skin and discard it. Cover and set aside for making the sauce.
  3. 03
    To the onion-panko mixture, add the beef, lamb, half of the garlic, 2 tablespoons each of parsley and mint, 2 teaspoons of the oregano, the cumin, paprika, egg and ½ teaspoon pepper. Mix with your hands until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.
  4. 04
    Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle position. Divide the chilled meat mixture into 12 evenly sized balls (a scant ¼ cup each). With wet hands, shape each one into an oblong about 3 inches long.
  5. 05
    In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs and cook, using a thin metal spatula or 2 spoons to gently and occasionally turn them, until lightly browned all over, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and set aside. Pour off and discard the fat in the skillet.
  6. 06
    In the same skillet over medium-high, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, reserved grated onion, remaining garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the moisture from the onion has evaporated and the onion and drippings are well browned, about 5 minutes; reduce the heat as needed if browning goes too quickly. Stir in the tomato paste and remaining 1 teaspoon oregano, then add the grated tomatoes; scrape up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.
  7. 07
    Off heat, nestle the meatballs in the sauce and add the accumulated juices. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the center of the meatballs registers 160°F and the sauce is brown at the edges, 13 to 18 minutes.
  8. 08
    Remove the skillet from the oven (the handle will be hot). Serve sprinkled with the remaining 2 tablespoons each parsley and mint.
Tip: Don’t use tongs to turn the meatballs in the skillet. Until they’re browned on all sides, the soutzoukakia are quite delicate and easily marred by tongs. A thin metal spatula is better for rotating them.
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Reviews
Robert F.
June 20, 2022
Really delicious
My wife and I love this dish. Easy to make and great with wine.
Kelly B.

Good, but didn’t wow. Will try again with crushed tomatoes, thinking the fresh tomatoes were lacking flavor this time of year. Summer tomatoes from the garden should be wonderful in this recipe. Will also use fresh oregano instead of dried in the meatball herb blend and sauce for added flavor.


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Greek Meatballs with Tomato Sauce (Soutzoukakia)

Get Ready to Cook

4 to 6

Servings

1 hour 20 minutes

Tip

Don’t use tongs to turn the meatballs in the skillet. Until they’re browned on all sides, the soutzoukakia are quite delicate and easily marred by tongs. A thin metal spatula is better for rotating them.

Ingredients
  • 2

    medium yellow onions, peeled

  • 3

    tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • pounds ripe tomatoes, halved

  • 8

    ounces 80 percent lean ground beef (see headnote)

  • 8

    ounces ground lamb

  • 4

    medium garlic cloves, finely grated

  • 4

    tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided

  • 4

    tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, divided

  • 3

    teaspoons dried oregano, divided

  • 1

    teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1

    teaspoon sweet paprika

  • 1

    large egg, beaten

  • 4

    tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 2

    tablespoons tomato paste

Step 1 of 8

Make the Panko Mixture

2
medium yellow onions, peeled
3
tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
½
teaspoon salt

Set a box grater in a medium bowl. Grate the onions on the large holes down to the root ends; reserve the box grater. Transfer half of the grated onion to a small bowl and set aside for the sauce. To the grated onion in the medium bowl, add the panko and ½ teaspoon salt; stir, then let stand until the panko is softened, about 10 minutes.

Step 2 of 8

Grate the Tomatoes

pounds ripe tomatoes, halved

Meanwhile, grate the tomato halves (start with the cut sides against the grater) into another medium bowl; stop when you reach the skin and discard it. Cover and set aside for making the sauce.

Step 3 of 8

Make the Meat Mixture

8
ounces 80 percent lean ground beef (see headnote)
8
ounces ground lamb
4
medium garlic cloves, finely grated
2
tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2
tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2
teaspoons dried oregano
1
teaspoon ground cumin
1
teaspoon sweet paprika
1
large egg, beaten
½
teaspoon pepper

To the onion-panko mixture, add the beef, lamb, half of the garlic, 2 tablespoons each of parsley and mint, 2 teaspoons of the oregano, the cumin, paprika, egg and ½ teaspoon pepper. Mix with your hands until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.

Step 4 of 8

Divide the Meat Mixture

Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle position. Divide the chilled meat mixture into 12 evenly sized balls (a scant ¼ cup each). With wet hands, shape each one into an oblong about 3 inches long.

Step 5 of 8

Cook the Meatballs

3
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs and cook, using a thin metal spatula or 2 spoons to gently and occasionally turn them, until lightly browned all over, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and set aside. Pour off and discard the fat in the skillet.

Step 6 of 8

Make the Tomato Paste Mixture

1
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½
teaspoon salt
¼
teaspoon pepper
2
tablespoons tomato paste
1
teaspoons dried oregano

In the same skillet over medium-high, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, reserved grated onion, remaining garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the moisture from the onion has evaporated and the onion and drippings are well browned, about 5 minutes; reduce the heat as needed if browning goes too quickly.


Stir in the tomato paste and remaining 1 teaspoon oregano, then add the grated tomatoes; scrape up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.

Step 7 of 8

Continue to Cook

Off heat, nestle the meatballs in the sauce and add the accumulated juices. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the center of the meatballs registers 160°F and the sauce is brown at the edges, 13 to 18 minutes.

Step 8 of 8

Finish and Serve

2
tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2
tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Remove the skillet from the oven (the handle will be hot). Serve sprinkled with the remaining 2 tablespoons each parsley and mint.

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