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Keftedes – moreish meatballs

September 26, 2013

MeatballsAs I bit into the meatball I got a taste of something fragrant, pungent even, slightly hot, savoury, aromatic. It seemed to tingle on my tongue. “Yes” said my Mum,” I put a clove of garlic in them.” This seemed as exotic and daring as if she had donned a Carmen Miranda hat and cha-cha-chaed round the sitting room. Hard to think that there was a time when pasta was only one shape – spaghetti in long blue paper packets – olive oil was in the medicine cabinet in a tiny bottle and garlic was a rare, foreign ingredient. Growing up in the 70’s in a working class family, that’s how it was. However, my Babcia (Polish grandmother) ate a raw  a day – and the scent of it always formed an aromatic halo around her – so I’m not sure where she got it from in such quantity!

So that was my meatball memory and some sort of meatball seems to exist in all cuisines. Whether you call it a kofte, slider, rissole, frikadeller, polpette or hanbagu, few can resist a bite-sized morsel of spicy or seasoned ground meat. I’m not claiming that this is a particularly authentic Greek recipe but it’s one that everyone seems to like. I’ve called them keftedes as they are a similar shape and size to the ones my Mother-in-law makes to a recipe passed down by her Greek-Cypriot mother. Mine have a lot more spice. Sometimes I roll them into balls as cocktail meatballs as in the top image.

The easiest packed lunch is made of left-overs from the night before, as all you have to do is put a portion in a tub ready for the morning. I often make double the quantity of these keftedes and simmer half of the them in a tomato sauce to eat with rice or pasta for supper. A few in the lunchboxes, with some hummus or tahini, flat bread, salad and a wedge of fresh lemon make a very satisfying meal. You can freeze the rest for another quick supper or lunch.

Lamb keftedes


1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon of sesame seeds
1/2 dried chilli (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 onion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g minced lamb
1/2 bunch of parsley or mint leaves picked and chopped (optional)

Serves 3-4


  1. Gently toast the cumin seeds, sesame seeds and dried chilli in a dry non-stick or cast iron frying pan until they start to turn very light golden brown.
  2. Remove immediately to a bowl and mix with some sea salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and fry the onion mixture gently until the onion and garlic is soft and transparent.
  3. Return to the bowl and mix together with the lamb and parsley or mint if using. Shape into small, slightly flattened rounds (like a mini burger or large flat meatball).
  4. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and put over a medium heat. Fry the keftedes for about 2-3 minutes on each side. They should be cooked through but still slightly pink in the middle. Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm or cold.

UAE Saves Week 2013

I’m posting recipes and ideas that are great for packed lunches this week – some are already up on the site if you want to plan ahead. There are other non-food related, practical activities every single day, find out what’s on here and don’t forget to use #UAEsaves on your pics, posts and tweets.

P.S. Vote for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. 14 stellar wine writing posts to choose from, only one vote. Please cast yours now.

So do you have meatball memories to share? What’s your favourite way to eat a meatball? And is a vegetarian ‘meatball’ just all wrong?

  1. September 26, 2013 9:59 am

    Exquisite! Perfect for making flatbread sanwiches and serving with tahini sauce (tarator).



    • September 26, 2013 2:06 pm

      So true – I love a few mint leaves in that sandwich too – plus a good squeeze of lemon juice.

  2. September 26, 2013 10:09 am

    Adore meatballs! Do you know the song “On top of spaghetti”? Generally I use half lamb and half beef as It is ground by the Turkish or Maroccan butcher and always halal.
    Wish leftovers would remain for lunch…sigh… no discipline in this house when it comes to food unless you hide it ;D

    • September 26, 2013 2:07 pm

      It was also a soundtrack from my childhood….probably as I ate my meatball!

  3. September 26, 2013 10:30 am

    What a wonderfully eclectic cook you are! Meatballs etc just have to figure in any home cook’s list of favourites!

    • September 26, 2013 2:08 pm

      It’s so true isn’t it – everyones’ favourite.

  4. September 26, 2013 11:55 am

    My maternal ‘yiayia’ used to make keftedes for my sister and I. Usually a mix of pork and beef mince. I can still picture her standing by the stove in our home in Nicosia and we’d sometimes eat them straight from the frying pan. We also have a baked version in Cyprus…always with plenty of garlic 🙂 Living here I tend to make lamb kubideh instead, the Iranian way.

    • September 26, 2013 2:09 pm

      I was very nervous of what you would think about me calling them keftedes! I love more garlic but KP complains 🙂

  5. September 26, 2013 11:57 am

    Meatballs! So many variants – Vegetarian ones are cool too, I make mine with red lentils 🙂

  6. September 26, 2013 1:23 pm

    I feel as if there’s something spooky going on here, as having just cooked lentil soup before you wrote about it, I was planning to make meatballs for supper tomorrow (I’m so food obsessed, always planning/looking forward to next few days meals!). i like the idea of cumin and sesame seeds in them, as you say perfect with flatbread etc as well as with pasta. Yummy!

    • September 26, 2013 2:10 pm

      Glad to hear we are on the same wavelength (although where we live couldn’t be more different!)

  7. September 26, 2013 2:40 pm

    I love meatballs, sadly for some unknown reason my husband does not, so its very seldom that I get to enjoy them – your keftedes look like the perfect recipe to try.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  8. September 26, 2013 3:25 pm

    Meatballs – I love ’em. But if you only had 15c in the 1940s you’d only get one!


    • glamorous glutton permalink
      September 28, 2013 1:10 am

      Love this!! GG

  9. September 26, 2013 3:37 pm

    I really, really, really want to eat these now. I love the sound of them and can just image the taste.

  10. September 26, 2013 5:20 pm

    I love meetball and I would like to make this nice recipe. Have a “greed day” Marica

  11. September 26, 2013 6:31 pm

    My wife is Lebanese and one of her family favourites is kafta (spelling is unknown as its just spoken not written down) with a creamy dill sauce. Meatballs very similar to your recipe. Thanks for the dinner idea. I craft (use that term loosely) our dinner each night and haven’t made these in a long while.

  12. September 27, 2013 7:59 am

    I must try using sesame seeds the next time I make meatballs 🙂

  13. September 27, 2013 10:03 am

    Even though we eat very little meat, I have a soft spot for well-seasoned and herbed lamb meatballs (and Vietnamese ones too). These sound terrific, and so easy. Love the addition of crunchy sesame seeds.

  14. September 27, 2013 1:16 pm

    What tasty alternative meatballs! They look just stunning & beautiful too! A must make! xxx

  15. glamorous glutton permalink
    September 28, 2013 1:07 am

    I love well made tasty meatballs. These look great, fabulous hot or cold. GG

    • October 2, 2013 9:08 am

      Picnic food…and it’s just about to get cool enough — hooray.

  16. Felicia Mavro permalink
    September 28, 2013 8:40 pm

    Who does not love meatballs? Your keftedes are not the traditional Greek ones , Im sure just as tasty. Like the sound of sesame seeds. Lovely to meet you the other day Sally at Calombaris event. Caught up with him today at Bloomingdales and he made this most divine rice pudding with date sauce and kourambiedes ( Greek shortbread).

    • October 2, 2013 9:06 am

      It was such a pleasure to meet you Felicia. Yes – my keftedes are not authentic but inspired by Greece…is that cheating?! I was a little disappointed by the food the other night so good to hear he delivered with rice pudding….which I adore…

  17. October 1, 2013 10:28 pm

    Yum, I will try these!

    • October 2, 2013 8:59 am

      Wish we could have a natter over a bowlful – xx

  18. October 3, 2013 9:14 pm

    Oh my! Thus recipe is definitely going on my hubby’s list. (he’s the cook.) Thanks for sharing it because just reading it brought back memories that made my mouth water.

  19. October 7, 2013 12:55 am

    Love the idea of a surprise in the centre. From garlic (I’d favour roasted garlic), to melted cheese, and pesto. They look wonderful

  20. October 7, 2013 3:17 pm

    Mmmmm, meatballs! We called them frikadelle growing up in S African and I have always adored them. I loved the line “as if she had donned a Carmen Miranda hat and cha-cha-chaed round the sitting room” – I think more mothers should have done this 😉 I also grew up believing pasta came in 2 shapes – long and thin, or alphabet letters, and I think when my brother brought home his Italian girlfriend (now wife) in 1989 was the first time our family had fresh garlic in their food instead of dried garlic flakes! Seem inconceivable now. Love this recipe 🙂


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