Greek Meatballs with Tzatziki

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Greek meatballs aren’t so different from other meatballs, but they are enhanced by classic flavors found in Greek cuisine—mint, oregano, and a hint of allspice.  These are light in texture and nicely flavored, and go really well with the classic Greek yogurt salad called tzatziki.


Tzatziki is a simple and delicious Greek dish, which turns up in many forms in Greek cooking—as a side dish, a salad, or an appetizer. These two recipes work well together in several ways.  As an appetizer–serve the meatballs on skewers and the sauce on the side.  As a sandwich—load a pita pocket with meatballs, tomato slices and tzatziki.  As an entrée–top rice or a Greek salad with a skewer of meatballs and serve the tzatziki on the side.  I’ve even been known to heat them in marinara sauce, and toss with penne and feta cheese for a quick pasta dish.  And if you have any leftover tzatziki, it is great as a dip with pita chips.

Greek Meatballs

Makes 48 to 60 meatballs

Ingredients:

2 slices day old white bread, torn into small pieces (should measure about 1 cup)
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef or lamb (I use beef)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 large onion, minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Flour (for dredging meatballs)
Olive oil for frying

Preparation:

In a small bowl, soak the bread in water for a few seconds.  Scoop the bread out with your hands and squeeze as much of the water out as you can.   Put the damp bread into a large bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients (except the flour and the olive oil).  Stir well to combine the mixture thoroughly.  Line a large baking sheet with wax paper or parchment and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of flour.  Put another few tablespoons of flour on a small plate.  Using a teaspoon, scoop heaping teaspoonfuls of the meat, roll into 1-½ inch balls, give a quick roll in the flour and then transfer to the baking sheet.  Repeat until all of the meatballs are prepared, separating layers with more wax paper sprinkled with flour.  Cover and chill the meatballs for at least an hour before frying them.

When you’re ready to fry the meatballs, heat a large skillet and add olive oil to the depth of about 1/8 of an inch.  When the oil is hot and begins to shimmer, add the meatballs in batches and cook, turning occasionally until nicely browned on all sides.  Transfer cooked meatballs to a platter.  You can either hold them in a 200-degree oven if you are eating them immediately, or you can reheat them later in the oven—it works well either way.

Tzatziki

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

1 long English cucumber or 2 regular cucumbers (the English cucumber is less watery and drains faster)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups Greek yogurt (I use Fage 0% or 2%)
¼ cup red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves put through a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

Preparation:

Grate the cucumber (I use a food processor) place it in a colander in the sink and sprinkle with the teaspoon of salt.  Let stand for an hour or so.  Pat the drained cucumbers with paper towels to remove as much of the moisture as possible and then put the cucumber into a large bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine well.  Taste and correct the seasoning (sometimes, I need to add a bit more salt and pepper) and chill for an hour or two to let the flavors blend together.

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