Keftedes and Tzaztiki Pitas, or How I Got My Family To Eat Greek Food

There are a few things that, through reading this blog, you should have figured out by now: I'm stubbornly salt averse, it takes me a fortnight to get dinner on the table (down recently from half an eternity), and, most importantly, my family is one of those meat-and-potatoes, fire-up-the-grill but hold-the-foreign-ingredients kind of people, and in many ways, there is nothing wrong with that. I love my family, but when I'm interested in trying out new cuisines, experimenting with flavor combinations, and generally branching out from chicken-with-a-side-of-insert-starch-here, it can be difficult. And so, it was with trepidation that I tested out this recipe for greek meatball sandwiches, essentially, that I discovered over at Closet Cooking.

Imagine my surprise when everyone loved it! Of course, there were suggestions, including making it with a tomato sauce instead of tzatziki - a change that, despite producing an undoubtedly delicious meatball sandwich, would completely undermine my attempt at cooking something new, different, and, well, not something you would find at the local pizza joint.

I did adapt the recipe to make it more appealing to my hungry diners that evening, and the changes I made made it less of a traditional greek meatball. I used ground turkey, because the traditional lamb was too cute for my family to consume, and I felt guilty asking the head of the house to buy the more expensive grass-fed beef, now that I've given up all other types of bovine. So ground turkey it was, and I highly recommend trying it either how it was originally intended, or with the lighter meat.

Greek Meatballs (Keftedes) with Tzatziki Sauce, in Pitas, courtesy of Closet Cooking and Healthy Delicious (for the tzatziki)
Yield: roughly 4 servings
The Ingredients
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped*
4 cloves garlic, minced (I used pre-minced)
1 lb. lean ground lamb or beef or pork etc. (I used turkey)
1 slice of bread, pulsed in a food processor
1/4 C milk
1 lemon, zest only (I used dried peel, about 1tsp.)
1 egg
1 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp. fresh dill or mint, finely chopped (I used dried dill, about 1/2 - 1 tsp.)
1/4 C feta cheese, crumbled (I used parmesan instead, since my family dislikes feta)
salt & pepper to taste
Greek style pitas (I used regular pitas, some of them being whole wheat and others being plain)
1 tomato, chopped (I sliced them)
1/2 red onion, chopped (omitted)

1 clove of garlic (or a small scoop of pre-minced)
6oz. plain, fat-free greek yogurt (the grocery store only had vanilla, which was a fine substitute - if anything it was a tad sweeter than it should have been)
1 cucumber
2 Tbsp. fresh dill (I used approx. 1 scant Tbsp. dried)
Salt, to taste (can you believe that I actually did this? A little.)
The Method
1. Saute the onions in the olive oil until just tender. I caramelized mine perhaps a little more than necessary, but wanted the extra depth of flavor that the extra cooking would give. Also, the recipe didn't specify a heat level, so I went with around medium.
2. Add the garlic to the pan and remove it from the heat.
3. Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, adjusting for the consistency. In general, at least with the ground turkey, these were very moist and soft meatballs before cooking them up. I did add an extra slice of bread to try to firm the mixture up a little, but in the end the slightly-globby consistency turned out just fine.
4. Roll the mixture into balls, trying to keep them at roughly the same size for even cooking. Here, I put mine into a casserole dish and refrigerated them for a little bit since I wasn't quite ready to cook them. I layered them, alternating the meat with a sheet of wax paper, which resulted in more patty-like shapes than actual balls.
5. When you're ready, add the meat to a pan and brown for 8-10 minutes. I added a decent amount of olive oil to the pan, though I've been told that this was only necessary since I used a much leaner meat than the recipe called for. I've actually never worked with ground meat before, so go with your best judgment/knowledge if you're working with a meat other than turkey.

6. To make the tzatziki, which I did while my meatballs were spending some quality time in the fridge, start by peeling the cucumber and coarsely grating or shredding it with a vegetable peeler. Combine it with the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl, seasoning it to taste with salt.
7. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

8. For serving, either assemble the pitas for everyone, or place all of the fillings on the table for each person to make their own.

*Note: I finally discovered it, the answer to my problems, the secret to conquering the chopping of those pesky onions! Just put it in the food processor, and power it up, and you have yourself almost-tear-free, non-time-consuming chopped onions. I also used a full onion here, lightly sauteed half of it and added some of that to the tzatziki (since I didn't have a red onion), and then continued to caramelize the rest.

These were the perfect antidote for the suffocating heat that blanketed the east coast this past week, even if they did require some use of indoor heating elements. They are light, not at all dry, and full of tangy, slightly sweet, refreshing flavor. I would love to try these "greek" inspired meatballs with traditional meat, but am also perfectly happy with the way the turkey complemented the dill, lemon, and yogurt here. The leftover patties were just as tasty the next day, thrown over a salad with a little bit of mozzarella cheese, salsa, and plain kashi cereal for "croutons."

Like I said, a little unconventional, but who ever said that something had to be traditional to be good?

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