The only thing better than eating meat is eating meat with cheese. So you can imagine the beast’s delight when a Greek friend suggested making Smyrna sryle meatballs also known as soutzoukakia smyrneika, a Greek and Turkish dish of spicy kofte with cumin and garlic, stuffed with cheese, and served in tomato sauce.
Historical fun fact of the day: ‘Smyrneika’ is a reference to the Greeks who left Smyrna, the ancient city located within modern İzmir, Turkey, and brought this dish with them to Greece.
Politics aside, the meatballs are delicious, the cheese filling is heavenly, and the sauce is rich and pungent — this dish works well with a side of rice pilaf. Feel free to serve with some veggies as well, blanched green beans or whatever you prefer.
This recipe is adapted from Argiro Barbarigou with some variations on the ingredients and measurements. The original recipe uses the teacup as a measurement which I find a bit unclear. A teacupful is essentially the amount a teacup will hold, which is about four fluid ounces. I have converted these measurements into cups for ease of reference. There are several different recipes on the Internet for soutzoukakia smyrneika so feel free to find one that works for you and is aligned with your taste preferences.
For the meatballs:
- 1kg beef minced meat
- 1/4 cup of dried breadcrumbs
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 4 tablespoons (plus some extra for moulding) Mavrodafni wine — Note if you can’t find this in a store, use a fortified sweet red wine as a substitute. I used Madeira and that seemed to be okay
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon cumin powder
- freshly ground pepper
For the filling
- 1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup of kefalotyri cheese, grated — if you can’t find this cheese (which I couldn’t), use another hard cheese made from sheep’s milk such as Romano, Parmesan or Manchego
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
For the sauce
- 1kg tomatoes, grated
- 1/3 tea cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- a pinch of sugar
- freshly ground pepper
Combine all the ingredients of the Smyrna meatballs in a large mixing bowl and scrunch them thoroughly. If you have time, chill the mixture in the fridge for a half hour, but if you don’t have time, don’t worry about it.
Now combine the filling ingredients.
Mould and pat the meat mixture into flat meatballs, putting some filling in the centre with the help of a spoon. Every now and then wet your fingertips in the wine and continue moulding.
Cook the meatballs in olive oil for a couple of minutes until golden.
Put all the sauce ingredients in a pan and boil for 10-15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Drop the meatballs in the sauce and let them cook for 10 minutes.
Serve them with rice pilaf. Sprinkle any remaining crumbled cheese on top.