Keftedes Roditiki

Meatballs from Rhodes

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes about 30 meatballs;

    6 to 8

    servings

Appears in

WHEN MY family makes keftedes, we always prepare a large quantity, since we eat them not only hot but also at room temperature—and even directly from the refrigerator. They are a common and popular meat dish, served on picnics as well as at buffet dinners and children’s parties.

I first came across fresh tomatoes as an ingredient in the keftedes mixture in the handwritten kitchen notebook of a certain late Mrs. Papastefanou. Mrs. Papastefanou, who came from Rhodes, was an excellent cook, and in her notebook, I found lots of interesting recipes for both traditional and French-inspired savory and sweet dishes. The ordinary keftedes with which I was familiar have a little vinegar and some wine added to the ground-meat mixture, but never tomato.

Tomatoes are native to the Americas, and they were not incorporated into the Greek diet until the late nineteenth century, probably by way of Italy, but they have become an indispensable ingredient in many Greek dishes. Tomatoes seem to be ubiquitous in the foods of the Dodecanese islands, perhaps because they were under Italian occupation from 1911 to 1947.

I came upon a similar recipe in a marvelous book called Recipes from Rhodes, a collection of old local recipes published on the island in the mid-1980s by a women’s organization. Theonie Mark, who is from Rhodes, also includes a recipe for keftedes with tomatoes in her Greek Island Cooking, published in the United States in the 1970s.

Fry some of the mixture as meatballs, as the recipe describes, and use the rest to make hamburgers or shape into sausages—we call them biftekia—and serve in pita bread with Yogurt, Garlic, Cucumber and Fennel Dip and tomato.

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Ingredients

  • 4 ounces Savory Barley and Wheat Biscuits or cup dried whole wheat bread crumbs
  • cups coarsely chopped onions
  • cups coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup grated ripe tomato (see Note) or canned diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper or pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ½ cup packed fresh mint leaves
  • pounds ground lamb or beef, or a combination
  • ¼ cup ouzo, vodka or water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil and safflower oil for frying

Method

Wrap the biscuits, if using, in a clean kitchen towel and hit it with your hand to break them up. In a food processor, combine the biscuits or bread crumbs, onions, parsley, tomato, pepper or pepper flakes, oregano and salt. Pulse to chop, scraping the sides of the bowl, just until the mixture is uniform; do not overprocess. Add the mint and pulse a few more times to chop.

In a large bowl, combine the meat, onion mixture and ouzo, vodka or water. Knead with your hands to mix. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.

Spread the flour on a large plate. Shape ¼-cup portions of the meat mixture into large meatballs. Flatten them slightly, dredge in the flour and place on a sheet of aluminum foil.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 1½ inches of a combination of olive and safflower oil over medium high heat to 350°F. Add a few keftedes at a time—do not crowd the skillet—and fry, turning two or three times, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Variation

You can also broil keftedes. Or shape ½-cup portions of the meat mixture into 4-inch-long rolls and fry or broil. Serve with warm pita bread, arugula, chopped tomato, chopped onion and Yogurt, Garlic, Cucumber and Fennel Dip. This mixture also makes great hamburgers. I cook them in a lightly oiled nonstick skillet, then wrap them in aluminum foil and freeze, so they are ready to be reheated in the microwave for a quick lunch.

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