As part of the provisioning preparations for the Captain’s Hawaii trip, I am cooking several things and vacuum packing them for optimal travel.
One of the things I’ve made for the crew are Greek Meatballs, one of my favorite recipes. A big reason why I’m making them is that their flavor improves with age and so these babies are perfectly suited for a bit of a rest in the freezer before gobbling down.
Greek Meatballs are a family recipe. We’ve always called them that, though I’m not exactly sure how ‘Greek’ they really are. But, my dad learned from his father, and I learned from mine. That’s Greek enough for me!
Since I was making a monster batch of meatballs for the trip, I thought I’d do a post and create a recipe. I’ve always made these from memory, with a hunk of this and a dash of that… so it’s good to think about quantities and ratios. For the provisioning batch, I started with 5 lbs of hamburger, more than twice what I usually do. I’m scaling that down for the recipe here, so no worries if you’re not planning to feed 15 people!
IMO, there are three things that make these meatballs ‘Greek’, or different from most other recipes I’ve seen: 1) lots of finely minced green bell pepper, 2) mint, 3) an oblong shape.
The mint in particular is critical. Once or twice in the past I have left it out of the mixture and the result just doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t take much, and too much will quickly overwhelm, but don’t skip it!
- 1.5 lbs ground beef
(10-15% fat – any less than that and the flavor will be off and the meatballs too dry or mealy. More than that, and they can get heavy and greasy)
- 1/2 large onion, minced
- 1/2 large green bell pepper, minced
- 1/2 c plain bread crumbs
(or finely-torn pieces of bread, no crusts)
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 c milk
- 2t dried mint, or a little bit more if fresh – very finely minced
(I use bulk peppermint tea when I don’t have fresh growing in the yard)
- 1t Greek oregano (slightly different in flavor than mexican oregano, but not a big deal whichever you use)
- ~1t seasoned salt (dad and I only ever use Johnny’s, but use your favorite)
- a goodly squelch of ketchup (about 1-1/2T)
You will also need:
- about 1c fine flour + 2t seasoned salt for coating the meatballs
- neutral-flavored cooking oil
- heavy-bottomed frying pan
- paper-towel lined tray
Important tip: Take off any jewelry up to your elbows, or you may live to regret it.
1. Prep your station
A: In your heavy-bottomed pan (I use a huge old cast-iron frying pan that belonged to my dad), add just enough oil so that there is a scant 1/8 inch covering the bottom. Turn heat on to medium and let the pan and oil get hot while you shape your first batch of meatballs.
B: Mix the flour and seasoned salt in a shallow tray. I’ve found it’s easiest to find a tray that is about the same size as the pan I’m using to cook the meatballs; this way I can roll and flour just enough for each batch.
2. Dump all the ingredients into a BIG bowl. Bigger than you think you’ll need – this mixture seems to grow while you mix it. Dumping order doesn’t matter, just get ’em all in there. Note: Your fingers and hands will thank you in the next step if you’ve given things a bit of time to warm up.
When all the ingredients are in the big bowl, plunge your hands in. Fold everything together lightly until the mixture is of even consistency. You are not trying to pack or compact the mixture here – you are trying to fold everything together until there are no more clumps of green pepper, pockets of breadcrumbs, or streaks of egg.
The mixture should be fairly wet and look like the lovechild of raw hamburger + fork-mashed overripe bananas:
If things seem too dry, add milk a tiny bit at a time until it feels mooshy. If things are too wet, add more breadcrumbs until things firm up.
3. Take about 2T of mixture into your hands and roll (each meatball should be about the size of a golf ball). Set down gently in the tray of seasoned flour.
I’ve found that my hands get the least goopy if I shape a full batch of meatballs all together, setting them in the drenching flour but not rolling them in the flour until the whole batch is formed (as shown in the picture above).
Then I roll each meatball lightly in the flour, tap off all excess. There should be only the lightest possible dusting of flour on them. This where I do the final bit of shaping into a slight oval just before I set them into the pan, which helps to knock off any extra flour. Give each meatball a gentle pat as you set them down flatten them slightly.
4. Cook for about 7 minutes or until the meatballs are a dark crispy brown (but not burned). The flour is frying in the oil, and so dark is ok – the outside will be darker than the inside. Then, turn over with tongs or a slotted spoon. Cook alternate side for 5-9 minutes more, until the sides are no longer pink. You may need to move meatballs around within the pan to get everything to cook evenly.
5. As they finish, move each batch to a paper-towel lined tray and let drain for a moment. You can either put meatballs into a warm oven or into the refrigerator depending on when you plan to eat them.
They are yummy right out of the pan, but the flavor develops as they sit. IMO, day 2 & 3 (and even later) are the very best eating.
These freeze incredibly well. It is worth it to make a big batch and put them in the freezer… if they last that long.
Back to my big batch cooking – Benny is never far away when the kitchen is in Active Mode.
He invariably is lying on his side *right* where I need to be, and he is somehow always most in the way when I am working with hot oil or the minute I am ready to drain a huge pot of boiling pasta.
The final results of my 5lbs: 92 meatballs!