For most of elementary school, we came home for lunch, and were greeted by our mom who had a nice, warm meal waiting for us. We would eat, sitting next to our mother, and we would watch the Flintstones together. This was the only time we were allowed to watch television during meals, probably permitted because our mother loved to follow Fred and Barney’s antics as much as we did. When she first arrived in Canada, it was partially by watching the Flintstones that our mother learned English. To this day, she can recite most of the episodes, and can yaba-daba-doo with the best of them.
Looking back, we don’t think that we appreciated how lucky we were. In fact, we often wished that we could just stay at school, to eat cold sandwiches with our friends. Every once in a while, our mother would acquiesce, and she would pack us a lunch so that we could eat in the school lunch room. She never packed us sandwiches however, which to this day, she contends, are not food. Instead she lovingly filled thermoses and containers with things like avgolemono, pastitsio and these soutzoukakia.
When it comes to food that our non-Greek classmates would make fun of, soutzoukakia is right up there. Not quite meatballs, and not really hamburger patties, it was hard for some of our peers to understand what it was we were eating, often referring to them as mutant, or deformed, versions of their favourite North American fare. Explaining to them that these were not meant to be either meatballs, or burgers, but that they were instead their own thing called soutzoukakia …well…you can imagine that this did nothing to stop the teasing. They found that soutzoukakia looked so so kaka! Kids! We didn’t really mind; we were too busy enjoying the company of our friends, and our delicious lunch.
There are many ways to make soutzoukakia, and several ways to serve them. Often, our parents will make a side of mashed potatoes to accompany the soutzoukakia, but more frequently, they serve them with plain rice, and so this is what we have chosen to feature in this recipe. The flavourful sauce in which the soutzoukakia cook is generously poured over the meat and the rice, turning something plain, into something just plain fantastic.
Part of what makes soutzoukakia, soutzoukakia are their shape. The best way to create the traditional shape is to roll the meat into a ball, and then, between the palms of your hands, gently roll it into an oval log shape. Each soutzoukaki does not need to be exactly the same as the others, but they should be relatively equal in size, to ensure even cooking. This is why we suggest that you start each one with about 2 tablespoons worth of meat, and roll from there.
The recipe suggests that you allow the meat mixture to rest for at least two hours. This is an important step as it allows all the flavours to blend together and, according to our parents, it gives a better texture to the soutzoukakia.
You will notice that after you roll your soutzoukakia, if you use the quantity we suggest for each one, they will appear to be quite small and scrawny. Don’t worry, as they cook they will plump up. Cooking is science!
As we have described in previous posts using rice, such as rice with vegetables and veal kokkinisto served with rice, our parents cook their rice in much the same way that they cook pasta, in plenty of water. After rinsing the rice, they add it to a large pot of boiling water, cook it until it is done, and then drain it. This helps to remove much of the arsenic often found in rice, and also prevents situations where you find yourself with burnt rice because there just wasn’t enough water to start with.
This recipe makes a lot of soutzoukakia, approximately 30 of them. So great! If your ground meats were not previously frozen, then you can freeze a portion of the formed soutzoukakia, un-cooked, where they will be ready to be used another day. To freeze, simply lay them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. When they are frozen, you can store them in a freezer bag. When it is time to cook them, allow them to thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then cook as directed in the recipe.
The tomato sauce which is used as the base of the sauce is our parents’ homemade version. If you have not already made their tomato sauce, use the best quality tomato sauce you can purchase. It will make a big difference in the final product.
Although not essential, this dish is made even more delicious with a light, or generous, sprinkling of mizithra on top of both the soutzoukakia and the rice.
Mia Kouppa: Soutzoukakia with rice
- 600 grams ground beef or veal
- 475 grams ground pork
- 2 medium onions, grated
- 8 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) finely chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon (4 ml) red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon (4 ml) dried oregano
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) plain breadcrumbs
- Vegetable or corn oil, for frying
- 2 cups (500 ml) tomato sauce
- 1 cup (250 ml) water
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground black pepper For the rice:
- 2 cups (500 ml) Carolina rice, or another long grain rice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Mizithra, optional
- In a large bowl combine the ground beef, the ground pork, the onion, garlic, parsley, red wine vinegar, olive oil, eggs, salt, ground black pepper, oregano and breadcrumbs. Mix very well with your hands until everything is combined. Cover, and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Shape your soutzoukakia by taking approximately 2 tablespoons of the mixture, forming a ball, and then rolling it into an oval shape. Continue until you have used up all of the meat mixture.
- Heat the vegetable or corn oil in a large frying pan (allow the oil to come up 1 – 2 centimeters in the pan) over medium heat. Add the soutzoukakia, being careful not to crowd them. Fry them, until all sides are golden brown, a few minutes per side.
- As you finish frying batches of the soutzoukakia, place them carefully in a large saucepan. Continue until all the soutzoukakia are in the pot.
- In a small bowl combine the tomato sauce, water, olive oil, ground cinnamon and pepper. Mix well and then pour this sauce over the soutzoukakia in the pot.
- Heat to boiling, and then reduce heat and cook, covered, over medium heat for approximately 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the rice.
- Rinse your rice thoroughly. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt and then stir in the rinsed rice. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, until the rice is done; about 20 minutes. Drain the rice and set aside.
- When the soutzoukakia are done, serve with a side of rice. Be sure to add sauce from the pot over the tzoutzoukakia, and the rice. Sprinkle with mizithra. Enjoy.