Greek-style Meatballs in Tomato Sauce


Who doesn’t like meatballs in tomato sauce? Well, vegetarians of course. But they are the ultimate comfort food and with Storm Gareth raging across the UK in the last few days, bringing damage-threatening winds and a bitter cold in the air, something warm and comforting was definitely needed.

I usually take an Italian route to meatballs but when I saw Rick Stein’s Greek meatballs (soutzoukakia) in his Long Weekends book, a different kind of seasoning was too tempting to resist. Wasn’t a hint of warming cinnamon and cumin just the thing in the inclement weather?

I changed the measurements slightly as I had a smaller amount of mince to hand, and soaked my bread for the meatballs in milk (a fairly common method) rather than red wine. But basically the recipe was heavily inspired by Mr Stein!


Greek-style Meatballs in Tomato Sauce – Serves 4

  • 400g minced beef
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 slices bread, crusts removed (50g), soaked in a little milk
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5cm cinnamon stick
  • 1 level teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 100ml red wine
  • 400g tin tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Put the mince, garlic, egg yolk, cumin and oregano in a large bowl. Squeeze the milk from the bread and crumble it into the meat mixture. Season with some salt and pepper and then mix well with your hands. Do not be tempted to use a food processor or you’ll have a paste – not the right mixture for meatballs. Use a little of the olive oil for cooking the meatballs to grease your hands and then start rolling out small balls of meat, about 25g each (you should get about 20). Rick makes his ‘rugby ball’ shapes and as I live in Twickenham – home of rugby – I sort of did this, though not too seriously; slightly oval rather than round balls. But really it’s up to you!

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and brown the meatballs on a fairly high heat until golden brown all over. Remove to a plate while you make the sauce.

Clean the large frying pan. Add the shallot, garlic and oil to the pan and gently fry until softening. Add the cinnamon stick, cumin and sugar. Stir round and allow to cook gently for about 5 minutes.


Pour in the red wine. Stir well. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and allow to bubble and reduce for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée and seasoning. Mash the tomatoes down a bit with a potato masher. Leave to cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.


Add the meatballs. Mix well. Leave to simmer for about 15 minutes with a lid on the pan. Stir occasionally, adding a little water if the mixture starts to become too thick.

Serve with rice with a few olives chopped into it (if you like olives!).

It was so good! I just loved the flavourings, the gorgeous warming spices in the sauce, and the meatballs were wonderfully tender and tasty. I shared with the family and it was a big hit with them – especially 4-year-old Freddie. What a perfect family meal for a cold and windy March evening!


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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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