Recipe: Meatballs with Zucchini and Bulgur

There are as many recipes for keftedes (plural of kefte) as there are cooks in Greece. This is my favorite, based on recipes from Macedonia and Thrace. The mixture of bulgur and grated zucchini, instead of bread, makes it exceptional. Chef Jim Botsacos of Molyvos in NY serves a variation of these keftedes in his restaurant.

Serves 4-6

    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 ½ pounds zucchini or squash, grated
    • 1 ½ cups finely chopped onions
    • 1 - 1 ½ teaspoons chopped jalapeno, or 1/3 - ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 1 ½ cups bulgur
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1 ¼ pounds lean ground beef
    • 2-3 eggs
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • ½ cup chopped fresh mint
    • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
    • 3 tablespoons ouzo or dry white wine
    • 1 ½ cups grated kefalotyri or Pecorino cheese
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
    • flour, for dredging
    • olive oil, for frying

In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat and sauté the grated zucchini until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the onions and pepper and cook, stirring, for two more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the bulgur and milk. Stir and let stand for about 15 minutes, or until the wheat absorbs the liquid and becomes soft.

In a large bowl, mix the ground beef with the eggs, garlic, mint, parsley, and ouzo or wine. Stir in the zucchini and bulgur mixture. Add the grated cheese and salt and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least one hour, and up to eight hours. (To check the seasoning of the meatballs, cook a teaspoon of the mixture before proceeding.)

Take a heaping tablespoon of the mixture in your hand and shape it into a ball. Press down slightly and dredge in flour. Repeat to shape all the Keftedes.

When ready to fry, heat about two inches olive oil in a large skillet and fry the meatballs in batches, without crowding the pan, until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: Instead of frying the meatballs, you can broil them. Shape as described and, without dredging them in flour, brush liberally with olive oil and broil for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once.

You can also make keftedakia (small meatballs) by shaping the mixture with teaspoons, rather than tablespoons.

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Aglaia Kremezi writes about food in Greek, European, and American magazines, publishes books about Mediterranean cooking in the U.S. and Greece, and teaches cooking classes. More

Aglaia Kremezi has changed her life and her profession many times over. She currently writes about food in Greek, European and American magazines, publishes books about Greek and Mediterranean cooking in the US and in Greece, and teaches cooking to small groups of travelers who visit Kea. Before that she was a journalist and editor, writing about everything, except politics. She has been the editor in chief and the creator of news, women's, and life-style magazines, her last disastrous venture being a "TV guide for thinking people," a contradiction in terms, at least in her country. She studied art, graphic design, and photography at the Polytechnic of Central London. For five years she taught photography to graphic designers while freelancing as a news and fashion photographer for Athenian magazines and newspapers. Editors liked her extended captions more than the pieces the journalists submitted for the events she took pictures for, so she was encouraged to do her own stories, gradually becoming a full time journalist and editor. You can visit her website at

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