Soutzoukakia also known as Greek baked meatballs in tomato sauce is a classic recipe that's full of flavor. Juicy meatballs cooked in a flavorful rich tomato sauce makes the perfect recipe. Follow along for all my tips and tricks to make the juiciest meatballs!
By now it's very clear that Greek cuisine is one of my all time favorites. From simple recipes such as chicken souvlaki and tzatziki to dishes such as moussaka, spanakopita and pastitsio, I love the feast of flavors every dish brings. And today's recipe is no exception. Just like keftedes, these baked meatballs so juicy and delicious!
About this recipe and its origin
Soutzoukakia (pronounced sou-ju-ka-kia) also known as smyrna meatballs is a classic Greek recipe made with meatballs baked in a thick tomato sauce and usually served with rice. This dish is also known as Izmir koftesi. Izmir is a town in Turkey where these meatballs are originated, however, there are a few differences between the Greek and the Turkish versions:
- Soutzoukakia is sometimes made from a combination of beef and pork, where as the Turkish version is always made with only ground beef.
- Izmir koftesi contains potatoes and tomatoes, and sometimes peppers whereas the Greek version doesn't.
Today I'm going to show you how to make the Greek version of these meatballs in tomato sauce, with just a few ingredients and in just 3 steps with two different approaches. So follow along for this amazing recipe!
The secret to juicy meatballs
If you're going to get one thing from this meatballs in tomato sauce recipe, let it be the secret to juicy and tender meatballs. Ground beef turns to dry out when cooked so we need to add extra moisture and the way to do so is to soak some bread in water or milk. If grating an onion for a recipe such as kofta kebab you can soak the bread in the liquid come from squeezing the grated onion.
You can also use bread crumbs instead of bread and add some water to it to form a soft paste, like I did in my Italian meatball recipe. With this small trick your meatballs are always going to be tender, whether they're baked, fried or cooked in sauce.
Ingredients and substitutions
Ground beef - To have tender meatballs, it's best to use freshly ground beef and not frozen. If using frozen ground beef, thaw it in the fridge and don't microwave it.
Bread - Whole wheat bread works best for this recipe but you can also use white bread.
Egg - We use one egg as a binding agent for this recipe. It's best to have the egg at room temperature so it mixes better with the rest of the ingredients.
Tomatoes - To make the tomato sauce, I usually use fresh tomatoes if they're in season (summer) and other times of the year I use canned tomatoes. Use the highest quality of canned tomatoes since they can make or break the sauce, same goes for tomato paste.
How to make soutzoukakia
Make the meatballs
Soak the bread in water for a few minutes. Mix the bread with ground beef, chopped onion, egg, garlic and the spices. Using wet hands, form the meatballs into cylinder like shapes and place them on a plate.
Heat some oil in a pan over medium heat and roll the meatballs in the flour and shake them to get rid of the excess flour. Sear the meatballs in oil for about 5 minutes until they're golden on all sides.
Make the tomato sauce
To make the tomato sauce, heat some olive oil in a pan. Once the oil is shimmery, add all the ingredients and cook it on medium low for about 30 minutes for the flavors to combine and the sauce to thicken.
Bring it all together
Now that your meatballs and tomato sauce are ready, it's up to you whether you'd like to cook it on the stove top or bake it in the oven. I've had success using either of these methods.
Stove top: Place the seared meatballs in the sauce and simmer on medium low for about 25 to 30 minutes until the meatballs are fully cooked.
Bake in the oven: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and bake for about 30 minutes, check to make sure the sauce hasn't thickened too much.
You can serve these Greek baked meatballs with so many sides! If looking for starchy sides, anything from plain white rice to Lebanese rice and vemicelli or Turkish rice pilaf and orzo would be perfect. Of course, we cannot forget about Greek potatoes or Greek style baked fries, both would be perfect with Soutzoukakia. Though I can easily enjoy these with some freshly baked pita bread as well.
Looking for lighter side dishes? Give our Mediterranean salads a try!
Frequently asked questions
It's best to use 85% leans ground beef with 15% fat content for moist and juicy meatballs.
Yes! You can make Soutzoukakia a day in advance and reheat when ready to eat.
Absolutely, once the dish has cooled completely, store it in a freezer safe container and freeze for up to 3 months.
You can use ground beef, lamb, pork or a combination of all. It's also possible to use ground chicken or turkey but it wouldn't be a classic version.
More Greek recipes
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Soutzoukakia Greek Baked Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
- 3 slices Bread whole wheat or white
- ½ cup water
- 1 lb ground beef
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoon all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 can diced tomatoes 15 oz
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups water
- Place the bread in a large bowl and add the water. Let it soak for a few minutes and then discard any excess water. Add in the ground beef, onion, egg, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well and make sure all the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Wet your hands and form the mixture into cylinder shaped meatballs. You will have 8 to 12 meatballs. Roll the meatballs in all purpose flour and set them aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Sear the meatballs in the pan for about 5 minutes until they're golden on all sides. They don't need to be cooked all the way through.
- To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan and once it's shimmery (but not smoking), add in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, cinnamon and water. Bring it to a simmer and let it cook for 30 minutes so the flavors are combined and the sauce thickens a bit.
- Add the seared meatballs to the sauce and let it cook on medium low for about 30 minutes.If baking in the oven, place the meatballs in an oven safe dish and pour the sauce over the meatballs. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes. Check after 20 minutes to make sure the sauce hasn't thickened or dried too much. If needed, add ½ cup water.
- Serve with white rice.
- You can use ground beef or lamb or a mix of both for this recipe.
- Store the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- To freeze these Greek baked meatballs, let the dish cool completely and then store in a freezer safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, let the meatballs thaw in the fridge overnight or thaw in the microwave.
- If you're making this dish in summer and tomatoes are in season, use fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Otherwise make sure to use high quality canned tomatoes.
- For a gluten free option you can use gluten free bread.