Spiced Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Soutzoukakia)

soutzoukakiaI owe the success of this recipe to two lovely ladies. Mrs Mary Nicolaidou is an exeptional lady, and her armenian family roots make her one of the best cooks I know. Mrs Mary kindly shared with me, how she always wets her palms with red wine, while shaping the meatballs. This marinates the meat and adds a ton of flavour. Another lovely lady and excellent cook, Mrs Stavroula Andronikou, told me, never to use eggs in meatballs, as this stiffens the mince mixture thus making the meatballs tougher and less fluffy.

We call this dish «soutzoukakia». It’s spiced beef mince, shaped into balls, then fried or baked (I bake them) and finish cooking in a pot, with sweet tomato sauce. Serve with rice.

For the meatballs

  • 1 kg beef mince
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 80 grams (about 4 slices), 2 days old bread
  • 1 ½ cup good quality red wine
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • ½ cup olive oil (approx.)

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 kg grated tomatoes from a carton
  • 500 grams tomato passata (concentrated tomato juice)
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • any wine left from the meatballs
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt to taste


Put the bread in a bowl and add ½ cup red wine. Leave to soak for a few minutes. In a rage bowl add the mince, garlic, onion, cumin, black pepper, cayenne and salt to taste. Add the bread with any wine left in the bowl. Using your hands (wear plastic gloves if you have to) mix everything together very well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let mixture stand for at least one hour, preferably over night.

Preheat oven to 200 C. Put the rest of the red wine in a soup plate, or other rimmed bowl, big enough to fit your palm in it. Shape mince mixture into small balls or ovals, wetting your palms with the wine. Put meatballs on a baking tray, lined with parchment. Use a pastry brush to spread the olive oil on the meatballs. Bake for 15 minutes.

Make tomato sauce while meatballs bake. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add any left over wine. Boil for 30 seconds and add the grated tomatoes, tomato passata and tomato paste. Season with the cumin, salt and pepper. Mix with a spoon and let the sauce simmer until slightly thickened

Add the baked meatballs in the tomato sauce. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Serve with rice, sprinkled with chopped parsley.

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