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.