Keftedes (plural for kefte) sounds like a Turkish word. As with many Greek dishes, the name was probably given by the Turks, who adopted the dish after they occupied Byzantium. Nevertheless, the name comes from the word kopto, the Byzantine term for ground meat.

There are many recipes for Keftedes. Practically every cook has a particular mixture of ingredients. The following is a combination of recipes from Macedonia and Thrace, and it’s my favorite.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • pounds zucchini or other summer squash, grated
  • cups finely chopped onions
  • 1-1½ teaspoons chopped fresh chili pepper, or ⅓-½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • cups bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • 1 cup milk
  • pounds lean ground beef
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mint
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons ouzo or dry white wine
  • cups grated Parmesan or kefalotyri cheese
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt or to taste
  • Flour, for dredging
  • Olive oil, for frying


In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat and sauté the grated zucchini until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the onions and chili pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the bulgur and milk. Stir and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the wheat absorbs the liquid and becomes soft.

In a large bowl, mix the ground beef with the eggs, garlic, mint, parsley, and ouzo or wine. Stir in the zucchini and bulgur mixture. Add the grated cheese and salt and mix thoroughly. Let the mixture stand for at least 1 hour. You can also prepare it the night before and keep it in the refrigerator.

Take a heaping tablespoon of the mixture in your hand and shape it into a ball. Press down slightly and dredge in flour. Repeat to shape all the Keftedes.

When ready to fry, heat olive oil in a large skillet and fry the meatballs until well browned on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then serve hot or cold.