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Those who have been following this blog for awhile know that my husband grew up in the Netherlands and spent summers on his father’s native island of Corfu in Greece. When we first met, I visited the Netherlands and easily became acquainted with his friends and family since nearly all Dutch people speak fluent English. The introductions to his Greek world were not as seamless.
Though younger people in Greek speak English, it isn’t customary for older generations. I did a lot of smiling and nodding and my husband translated as much as he could. Meals in Greece are long affairs prolonged by conversation and drink. The food is always captivating but feigning interest for a few hours without understanding a word was sometimes taxing. Over and over in my head, I giggled to myself, “It’s all Greek to me” as I laughed along with a joke I didn’t understand.
The first time we visited some cousins in Athens, they had set up a long table in their apartment to accommodate all the guests for a traditional meal. Kostas, the patriarch of the family, was an extremely hard-working man who managed many hours of physical work to provide for his family. He had a weathered face, a thick mustache, always a cigarette in one hand and big smile.
That evening, I ate Soutzoukakai for the first time. It was Kostas’ favorite meal and he made sure I understood that. He slowly repeated the words to me, “Thelo Soutzoukakia” and encouraged me to repeat it. It means “I want Soutzoukakai.” Like a good little parrot, I repeated over and over. A number of times throughout the meal, Kostas would break conversation and look at me with raised eyebrows. “Thelo Soutzoukakia!” I would announced. Bravo! Smiles, laughs and nodding heads. The American got it right. Kostas was proud that he had taught me what he considered to be the most important sentence in the Greek language.
Though I have made dozens of Greek dishes, until last week, I had never prepared these meatballs. A few years after meeting Kostas, we lost him to cancer. Though I didn’t know him well, we connected that evening thanks to his efforts. Perhaps I have been hesitant to make these meatballs since they hold such significance to my memory of Kostas.
Some weeks ago, I was contacted about reviewing a new line of cookware from Nambe. Though I don’t accept many product reviews, I was drawn in by the saute pans’ ability to move so seamlessly from stovetop to oven to table. Immediately, I knew I would devise a Greek meal around the shiny CookServ piece!
While brainstorming what to cook, my husband suggested Soutzoukakia. We fondly remembered our meal with Kostas and I realized that rather than keeping the meatballs from my repertoire, I should master the recipe and teach my children and all that come to my table to say, “Thelo Soutzoukakia!”
The Nambe pans were indeed successful atop the stove as I fried the meatballs in oil and later simmered them in sauce.
We invited friends over for dinner and transferred the pan directly to the table alongside a few other Greek specialities. Though our family serves the meatballs with rice, they are also delicious over pasta. During our dinner, a number of the kids and even the babies requested second helpings of the Soutzoukakia until we had eaten every last one of the meatballs. I like to believe that somewhere Kostas was laughing and raising a glass of ouzo to our feast.
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Soutzoukakia: Greek Smyrna Meatballs in Sauce
Makes 18-20 small meatballs
1/2 cup water
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 1/4 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup olive oil for frying
1 large can (24 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Pour water over bread and soak for 10 minutes then mash with a fork. Add garlic, 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, all the cumin, oregano and egg. Add the meat and mix until well combined.
Shape into 18-20 oblong meatballs (the size doesn’t matter really, it’s just a tradition.) Heat olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Fry the meatballs on all sides until brown. Remove them meatballs to a plate.
Add tomatoes, butter, remaining salt and pepper, and sugar to the pan. Stir to incorporate leftover oil. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the sausages and cook over low heat for another 15 minutes. Serve hot alongside rice, potatoes or pasta.