Keftedes — An Athenian Recipe

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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.

Keftedes

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.

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My Latest Book

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It all started at the beach when I read a translation of the Greek wedding service to my sister and my soon-to-be-wife on the timeless Cycladic island of Sifnos, the day before my marriage in a tiny, icon-filled, 16th Century chapel there. That’s when I first became aware of the exceptional beauty of what is thought to be the most ancient of all Christian wedding ceremonies.

Since then, those Greek island memories have become ever more present in my life. So much so that not long ago I decided to write and publish a book about the Orthodox wedding ceremony. I wanted it to be a very special “gift book” explaining the ceremony and its symbolism based on conversations with the clergy, filled with original art illustrating an easy-to-understand text. And that’s just what it turned out to be.  The talented Evangelia Philipidis created the captivating art to go with my text.  I know it’s hard to believe, but up until now a book like this didn’t exist.  

Know anyone getting married in the Greek Church?  If you do, you might want to think about the book as an engagement or wedding gift.  The Greek Orthodox Wedding Book is available in many Greek church bookstores around the country and on Amazon.

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“Long before there was a Greek Orthodox Church, back in pagan, ancient Greece there was a certain time of year when most couples married. Classical scholars say it was in winter.”

“Various superstitions compelled the ancient Greeks to be married at night, during a full moon. The most common month for couples to marry was called Gamelion, which means “wedding month” in ancient Greek. We call that month January.”

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“The Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony is unique among Christian marriage ceremonies in that this ancient Orthodox rite has remained primarily unchanged for centuries.”

“Another aspect that sets the ceremony apart from other wedding rituals is that the bride and groom do not exchange vows. Instead, it is their presence before Christ, the priest and the congregation that signifies their wish to be joined in holy matrimony.”

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“The role of a koubaros is similar to that of a best man, but he plays a much more active part in the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony, both spiritual and financial.”

“Custom dictates that he is responsible for tipping the priest, as well as buying the koufeta favors, alter candles and even the couple’s stephana or crowns.”

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The Greek Orthodox Wedding Book contains twenty nine original illustrations; all are available through ArtSource as fine art prints.

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