Our neighbourhood growing up was filled with a lot of kids our age. We lived in an apartment complex, which was one of many on several blocks, and everyone seemed to know everyone else, at least a little bit. Our free time was spent meeting friends on the street, hanging out in the large back yards and driveways of these apartment buildings, playing catch, dodge ball, hide-and-seek, or just hanging around riding our bikes to the corner store to buy popsicles and sip-sacs. On days where there was no school, we would be outdoors all day, coming in only for lunch and bathroom breaks. Reluctant to fully stop all friend-related activities, we would often have friends over to share a quick lunch before heading back out. Knowing this, our parents would usually have some quick and kid-friendly meals at the ready. Included in this were lots of hamburgers and meatballs (called keftedes), and these were well loved, and understood, even by our non-Greek friends. They would ask for ketchup (they were usually given tzatziki instead) and they ate, happily.
But every once in a while, lunch time offerings took on a different form, literally. Sitting at the kitchen table with Jack and Jill, our mom would sometimes present a plate of biftekia and with a smile exclaim “Eat!”. There was confusion on the faces of our guests. What were these things? Too big to be meatballs, and too oddly shaped to fit into a hamburger bun (and where were the hamburger buns!?), they didn’t know what to make of these things which they were sure were called beef-take-yea! And also, they wondered, where was the ketchup?!
Biftekia are actually more like soutzoukakia than hamburgers or meatballs, the difference being that soutzoukakia are baked in a tomato sauce, and biftekia are not (there are other differences in these recipes as well, but that is the most obvious one).
One of the reasons that our parents biftekia are so delicious is because they use freshly ground meat, that they grind themselves. Now, because we realize that most of you (us included) do not have a meat grinder at home, the next best thing is to really make friends with your local butcher. That way, you can choose excellent cuts of meat and simply ask him or her to grind it for you. As with most of their recipes using ground meat, our parents here use a combination; in this case a mixture of equal parts ground veal and ground pork.
This recipe uses a little bit of white wine when baking the biftekia. If you would rather not use alcohol, or you drank it all the night before, you can omit it. However, unless you purposefully avoid alcohol, this added little flavour is worth uncorking a new bottle.
Our parents love to serve biftekia with freshly made french fries. You can read the original post for french fries by clicking here, but we have also included the recipe itself below.
Mia Kouppa: Biftekia with french fries
- 1 3/4 pound total of ground veal and ground pork (equal parts of each)
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and grated (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/8 – 1/4 cup water
- 3 tablespoons white wine
- Vegetable oil for frying
- In a large mixing bowl combine the ground veal and pork, the grated onion, breadcrumbs, eggs, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano and mix well until the ingredients are all combined. If you find that the mixture is too stiff, add some of the water (up to 1/4 cup). Mix again. Your mixture should hold together nicely, retain its shape when you make a ball and be easy to work with.
- Allow your meat to rest for at least 30 minutes. If longer, keep it in the refrigerator.
- Taking 1/4 cup of the meat mixture at a time, shape the meat into rounded oval shapes, as pictured. They may appear really skinny, but they will expand in width and shrink a bit in length as they cook. Continue shaping your biftekia until you have used all the meat.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a deep frying pan, add 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. Heat the oil and then, over medium heat, fry your biftekia until they are brown on all sides. This will take several minutes per side, and will have to be done in batches.
- As your biftekia fry, transfer them to a large roasting pan (one which will be large enough to just hold all the biftekia in a single layer). When all the frying is done, pour the oil from the frying pan into the roasting pan (which contains all of the fried biftekia). Add the white wine to the roasting pan as well.
- Bake, uncovered, in the middle rack of your oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until baked through. While they are baking, you can make your french fries (recipe follows). The best way to check if your biftekia are done is to cut one in half. There should be no pink visible inside.
- Serve with a side of french fries, and enjoy.
Mia Kouppa: French Fries
- Potatoes (average 1 – 2 large potatoes per serving, depending on how hungry people are)
- Vegetable oil
- Sea salt
- Dried oregano
- Prepare your potatoes by peeling them, cutting them into 1/4 inch thick slices, and soaking them for at least an hour (longer is better) in cold water.
- Drain potatoes and dry using a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.
- Heat oil in deep frying pan or a pot (at least 1 inch of oil).
- Insert one potato and when that potato starts to sizzle, drop additional potatoes into the oil carefully. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook over medium / high heat for approximately 15 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown on all sides.
- Remove carefully with a slotted spoon and let drain in a colander lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt and oregano while still hot.
- Repeat with remaining potatoes. Enjoy!