Keftedes — An Athenian Recipe


She could actually see the Acropolis from her house. And as a child she played on the breathtaking ruins of the Parthenon, where ancient Greeks gathered to worship the goddess Athena.

That young girl from Athens grew up to become my grandmother. My golden-haired, Greek grandmother. My seriously stoic Yia Yia.

She was an impressive presence. And, still is — you see, I always think of her when I make keftedes, those tempting, pan-fried Greek meatballs, seasoned with mint, cinnamon and allspice.

Have you ever tasted keftedes? Her recipe for them is amazing. Sort of rustic, yet so sophisticated. Like a Greek Rembetiko blues tune. Lots of notes. Tasty, spicy, and maybe mysterious to some.

Keftedes are a favorite appetizer when I do a Greek dinner for friends. Or I make them a casual main course when it’s just Trulee and I at the table. Served with a Greek salad and grilled bread.

To me, they’re more than simply exciting on the palate. They taste of memories. They’re an intimate connection to heritage, history — and that young Athenian girl who played on the Acropolis.


OK, first a little disclaimer: This recipe was “adjusted” by my mother and slightly “modified” by this health-concious grandson who substitutes ground turkey for the original ground beef.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a batch of 25 to 30:

1 lb ground turkey
1/2 28 oz can tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp allspice
Dash of cinnamon
2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup flour for dredging
Olive oil for pan-frying

The preparation:

First squeeze the liquid from the tomatoes. Then in a large bowl mix well all of the ingredients except flour and olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for four hours or over night.

When you’re ready to cook, form the mix into balls using the palms of your hands (about 1 tablespoon per) and, just before firing up the stove, roll in flour on a large plate to lightly cover.

Pour a 1/2 inch of oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers add as many meatballs as you can without crowding, cook until lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over, cover the skillet, cook 2 to 3 minutes more, browning the other side. (Test one to make sure they are completely cooked.) Transfer to paper towels. Repeat until all are done.

You should know, most Greeks like their keftedes room temperature. I do too when I serve them as an appetizer or meze. But when I have them as a main course, I like them hot from the pan.

So — go ahead, get your Greek on, give this recipe a try. It’s easy. And when you do be sure to give a nod to my very Greek grand mother from Athens, Hariklia Kalimani Chakeres. I always do.

By the way, that’s her engagement photo at the top of the post. Don’t you just love the “old country” feel of it? She’s standing with my grandfather, Demetrios and their proud sponsor-matchmaker.