Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Soutzoukakia Smirneika - Traditional Smirnean Meatballs

Smirni, aka Izmir, is a city on the south west coast of Turkey. Before 1922, nearly half of the city's population was Greek, consisting of mostly very wealthy people. In 1922 the relationships between Greece and Turkey worsened, leading to genocide or deportation of Greek population. In most of the cases, people who finally managed to reach Greece could not save any of their wealth. So the only wealth that they brought with them was their culture and of course the finest recipes. There are many recipes coming from Smirni, and I guess each Smirnean grandma has her own little secrets. The flavors of Smirni combine Greek and Turkish influences, they are spicy and aromatic, and it is just impossible to pass by without getting a wet mouth.

Probably the most famous Smirnean recipe is the meatballs. Spiced with cumin and cinnamon, they are (traditionally) fried at first and then cooked in a delicious tomato sauce. I really love them, and despite the first impression, cooking them is really easy. That is why I decided that this would be the main course for the Greek dinner party that I organized this Sunday.


For the meatballs:

1 kg ground beef
2 cups bread crumbles
2 eggs
1/2 cup dry red whine
1 whole garlic head, minced (YES one whole head, not just 1 clove)
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:

1 can chopped tomatoes
2 cups tomato puree
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 head garlic, minced (Again, head not clove)
10 grains allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients for the meatballs until the mixture is uniform. Set aside for about 15 minutes to let the minced meat absorb the flavors of the spices.
2. Shape the meatballs in the size of two fingers. They should be sort of oval.
3. As I already mentioned, traditionally you are supposed to fry the meatballs in some olive oil and then use the oil from the pan in the sauce. I did it once like this and they were pretty heavy (not that this came as a surprise to me). So this time I actually baked them in the oven. I think this is the optimal, since it is much healthier and they don't lose any of their taste. So at this point place your meatballs in a baking pan and bake in the oven at about 200°C until they are crispy from outside and well done inside. Set aside.
4. Prepare the sauce by mixing all the ingredients together in a large pot. The pot should be really big since you will add all the meatballs to it later. Cover the pot and cook the sauce for about half an hour at low heat.
5. Once the sauce is ready dip all the meatballs in it one by one. The best way is to try to place them one next to the other, as if trying to cover the bottom of the pot with them.
6. Cover the pot and cook on a low heat for another half an hour or maybe even a bit longer and they are done. Let them cool for few minutes and then serve with rice.

I know that the amount of garlic in this recipe sounds enormous and most people will be skeptical. In fact I also was, but I decided to give it a try and I don't regret it. If you are too afraid, you could try to cut the amount in half and see if you like it. If you do, next time try to increase the amount. I promise you'll love it!

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