Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Keftedakia

On the way home from a day at the beach, food was all we could think of. The sensation of hunger after swimming in the open, blue, Aegean Sea can be quite strong.
I knew I was the one who would prepare our lunch, and the moment when I’d sit down to the table and enjoy the fruit of my labor seemed very distant.

We had picked up everything we needed from the market. Minced veal, onions, dried mint, and luckily there was some stale bread leftover from the previous day to soak and use for my keftedakia (meatballs). I put all the ingredients into a large bowl along with lots of salt and pepper and started mixing everything with my hands that still smelled of the sea.

I had been kneading the mixture for a long time while a pleasant, cool breeze coming from the kitchen window was caressing my face, and when my hands started feeling tired from the repetitive motion and my thoughts stopped wandering and had now focused on the image of freshly fried meatballs, I reached for the flour.

Oh no, where’s the flour? Don’t we have any? Now what? I can’t make keftedakia without flour. Oh no.

And then it hit me. The best part about being in a small Greek village is the neighbors. Mrs. Katerina was living in the house down the hill and fortunately she was willing to help me. She welcomed me into her home and into her kitchen, and as she lifted the huge sack of flour from the floor and onto a wooden table she said:
“How much do you need?”
“Not much. Here, I brought this small bowl with me. I’m making keftedakia”.
“You can have as much as you want. We have plenty of flour. We all make our own bread every week around here, not like you Athenians”, she said as she sieved the flour.
If only she knew how much I love making my own bread.
I didn’t reply. I didn’t want to crush her image of busy Athenians eating super-market bread in their tiny apartments.

Thanks to her generosity, I left her kitchen with more flour than I needed, went home and immediately started flouring my small, round keftedakia. When the oil started shimmering and the keftedakia took their first plunge in it, they swiftly started to sizzle and soon after they took on a golden brown color.

The table was set, the freshly cut potatoes were fried, the horiatiki salad was prepared with big, juicy, red tomatoes and the best tasting feta I’ve had in a long time, the bread from the village bakery was sliced, ready to be dunked into the rich, fruity olive oil, the beers were ice cold straight from the fridge and we all sat down to enjoy our much anticipated meal, hungrier than ever.

All this transpired a little over two months ago in North Euvoia, in Greece, and yet it feels like it was eons ago. This simple meal, this typical Greek fare, is an integral part of my memories from my vacation there, and these images will forever remind me of the kindness of my neighbor, the distinct smell of the sea and mountains, the keftedakia which even though I had made hundreds of times before, this will perhaps be the only one I will forever remember.

Keftedakia (Greek Fried Meatballs)

Keftedaki (plural: keftedakia) means small meatball in Greek. Keftes (plural: keftedes) is a larger meatball. In Greek homes this is perhaps the simplest, easiest type of meat dish and nibble that you’ll find.

There are many combinations of flavors that can go into a meatball, starting with the kind of meat used, veal, pork, lamb (beef is not popular in Greece), the spices and aromatics used etc. I have shared another version here about four years ago.

The more you mix and knead the keftedakia mixture with your hands, the more soft and tasty they will be. Twenty minutes is a good amount of time to knead them.
Keftedakia are shallow-fried with the oil reaching half way up each meatball. They don’t need to be fried for a long time, they only need three minutes on each side in very hot oil. They shouldn’t have a blackened crust but a golden-brown one.

Yield: about 50 keftedakia (the size of a large walnut)

3-4 large, thick slices of white sourdough bread
2 onions
1 kg minced veal (not too fatty)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1½-2 heaped tsp dried mint
Freshly ground black pepper

1- 2 cups semolina flour (durum wheat flour), for flouring the keftedakia
Olive oil or sunflower oil, for frying

Special equipment: small food processor, plastic wrap

In a large bowl, add the bread and cover with tap water. Soak the bread until it softens but doesn’t disintegrate. Drain the bread, squeezing it between your hands to remove excess water and return it to the bowl.

In a small food processor, add the onions and chop finely. Add them to the bread along with the minced veal, 3 Tbsp olive oil, dried mint, salt and pepper to taste.

Note: If you want to check the seasoning of your meatballs, fry a small piece and taste it. Season more if needed.

Mix well with your hands, kneading the mixture with the palm of your hand for about 20 minutes. The more you knead the tastier the meatballs.

Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and leave the keftedakia mixture aside for about 1 hour. This will allow the flavors to get to know each other and develop.

In a platter or rimmed baking sheet, spread the flour.
Take the bowl with the keftedakia mixture and knead again for 1 minute. Shape mixture into small balls (the size of a large walnut) and place them in the flour. Roll them around the flour to coat well.

In the meantime, in a large, wide, high-sided skillet or frying pan, add enough oil to come half up the sides of a meatball. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and once it starts to shimmer and it has gotten really hot, take the meatballs one at a time in the palm of your hand and shake them between your open fingers so that the excess flour falls off, and add them carefully to the frying pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan. (See photo).

Fry the meatballs for 3 minutes on one side, until they take on a golden color and then gently flip them over using tongs or a slotted spoon and fry them for 2-3 minutes on the other side. Remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon and if you wish, place them on baking paper to absorb the excess oil.
Continue frying the rest of the meatballs.

Serve them immediately while they’re still hot.


  1. These are beautiful, Magda - and something we will definitely try. I recently wrote about the Venetian appetizer tradition called cicchetti - and Mark and I decided that, when we serve cicchetti at home, we will mix and match traditions. These meatballs will be a great addition to our table. Thanks! ~ David

  2. My dear Magda, being an expat myself, I often find the longing for Athens too painful for NY to comfort. The only place that allows me to travel is my kitchen, where I try to resurrect the flavors of home. Thank you for these beautiful images.

  3. I love keftedakia or keftedes! We normally brown them with olive oil and them cook in tomato sauce. Or, we bake them instead. Really good, together with oven french fries :)

  4. Το καλύτερο φαγητό ever!!!

  5. Love this story, it will make your keftedakia stand out in my memory too.

  6. Thank you all so much for taking the time to comment and leave your thoughts.