Flavor-packed meatballs with loads of aromatics, fresh parsley, and a special blend of spices, including ground cumin and a touch of cinnamon baked in a rich tomato sauce! I'm talking about Soutzoukakia, football-shaped Greek meatballs.

Greek Baked Meatballs with Red Sauce. Garnished with Parsley

What is soutzoukakia?

Soutzoukakia! Say it with me, “soot-zoo-KAH-kee-ah”! Or you can call them izmir köfte. Izmir, a city in Turkey, is actually where these delicious meatballs originated, making their way to Greece sometime in the 20th century.

Soutzoukakia are delicious football-shaped meatballs made with ground beef, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and a unique spice combination, the star of which is cumin! The cumin's warm and distinctive flavor with bitter, lemony undertones provides a great earthy base here. Adding to the flavor is the epic tomato sauce scented with bay, garlic and a touch of cinnamon.

The meatballs are baked in the sauce to create a dish that is comfort food at it's finest! Serve soutzoukakia with other Greek dishes like green bean salad or briam for a healthy well-rounded dinner. You guys, you're gonna love this!

Table of Contents
  1. What is soutzoukakia?
  2. The secret to making good meatballs
  3. Ingredients for Greek baked meatballs
    1. Meatballs
    2. Tomato sauce
  4. How to shape soutzoukakia
  5. How to make soutzoukakia
  6. Make ahead tips for Greek baked meatballs
  7. Serving suggestions
  8. How to store and reheat leftovers
  9. Can you freeze soutzoukakia?
  10. More meatball recipes
  11. Soutzoukakia (Greek Baked Meatballs) Recipe
Greek Baked Meatballs in Red Sauce

The secret to making good meatballs

These baked meatballs are extra tender and juicy thanks to adding pieces of milk-soaked bread and using a light hand when mixing and forming the meatballs.

First, let's talk about this soaked bread business. This is a trick I learned from Yiayia Helen, and it's one I always use when I make keftedes or Lebanese-style meatballs. If you need to, use gluten free bread but do NOT skip this step!

Here's how to do it:

  • Toast 2 slices of whole wheat bread. You can use a toaster or the stovetop, whichever you prefer.
  • Place the toast in a shallow bowl with about ⅓ cup milk.
  • Allow it to soak for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Wring the excess liquid from the toast. You'll be left with what is basically toast mush, which is what you'll use in the meatballs.

Second, let's talk about mixing meat. If you've ever had a tough meatball chances are it was just overmixed and got a little too warm in the process. When combining ground beef with other ingredients you want to do it as gently as possible so the fat and the protein in the meat can bind together.

If you overwork the dough you can break that bind (kind of like when a sauce splits) resulting in dry, tough meatballs.

So the secret to flavorful, moist and tender meatballs is to:

  • Use bread soaked in milk
  • Keep the meat cold
  • Combine the ingredients just until they are mixed
  • Shape them gently

Do this and you'll have tender, juicy meatballs everytime.

Baked Meatballs with red sauce arranged on top of white rice

Ingredients for Greek baked meatballs

Soutzoukakia consists of 2 main parts: The signature oblong-shaped meatballs, and rich red sauce. Here's what you'll need for both:

Meatballs

  • Whole wheat bread: You'll need 2 slices. Use your favorite gluten-free option if you cannot tolerate gluten.
  • Milk: You'll need about ⅓ cup milk. You can also use water.
  • Ground beef: I use either 85 or 90 percent lean ground beef. Since the meatballs cook in a sauce, I wasn't worried about them turning out dry. For a fattier option, use equal amounts of lean ground beef and ground pork.
  • Aromatics: Chopped yellow onion and minced garlic.
  • Eggs: Eggs help to bind the meatballs so they don't fall apart.
  • Herbs and spices: Cumin, cinnamon, dried oregano, and flat-leaf parsley.

Tomato sauce

  • Extra virgin olive oil: I like using a Greek EVOO here, like our Private Reserve or Early Harvest oils.
  • Aromatics: Chopped yellow onion and minced garlic.
  • Red wine: Use a dry wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir.
  • Canned tomato sauce: You'll need two 15-ounce cans.
  • Herbs and spices: Bay leaf, cumin, cinnamon, and sugar.

How to shape soutzoukakia

Now, when you think of meatballs, you probably picture something small and spherical, with a serving size of 4 to 5 meatballs per person. Not the case here. This recipe yields 16 meatballs, and can serve up to 8 people, which is about 4 ounces of meat per person. Here's how to form Greek football-shaped meatballs.

  • If you want each meatball to be exactly the same size, start by weighing the total meatball mixture and dividing that by 16. That will give you the weight of each meatball. (Optional.)
  • If you are not too worried about being super precise, scoop 2 ½ tablespoons at a time to make the meatballs.
  • Wet your hands slightly so the meat doesn't stick.
  • Grab one meatball's worth of meat and shape it into a football shape using your palms. (Roll the meat mixture gently between your palms until it turns into an oblong.)
  • Don't sweat the shape too much. The meatballs will taste wonderful regardless!

How to make soutzoukakia

If you've ever wanted to get more people involved in making dinner this recipe is a good one for that. One person can build the tomato sauce, while someone else shapes the soutzoukakia. Here's how to make it.

  • Soak toasted whole wheat bread. Toast 2 slices whole wheat bread and place them in a shallow bowl with ⅓ cup milk. Allow to soak for about 10 minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid.
  • Gather Greek baked meatball ingredients. To a large bowl, add 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef, soaked toast, 1 small chopped yellow onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon each ground cinnamon and dried oregano, and ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley.

    Meatball ingredients in a bowl. Ground beef, onions, garlic, spices, and fresh parsley
  • Make the meatball mixture. Use your hands to bring the ingredients together until they are just combined. Then cover and refrigerate while you work on the sauce.

    Meatball ingredients combined into a kneaded meat mixture
  • Make the sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, then add 1 finely chopped yellow onion and cook for 3 minutes. Next, add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook for a minute, stirring regularly. Pour in ½ cup dry red wine and let it cook down by about half, then add 30 ounces canned tomato sauce, 1 bay leaf, ¾ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

    Red sauce for Greek baked meatballs
  • Shape the meatballs. Form the meat mixture into football-shaped meatballs (oblong shape) and arrange them in a large lightly oiled baking dish.

    Meat mixture formed into elongated meatballs the shape of a football. Arranged in a baking dish
  • Bake the meatballs. Pour the red sauce on top, then bake in a 400°F oven for 40 to 45 minutes. About halfway through, check and see if there is enough liquid in the dish. If not, add a little water (maybe about ¼ cup). Serve.

    Sauce added on top of meatballs in baking dish

Make ahead tips for Greek baked meatballs

Soutzoukakia is a convenient make-ahead meal! You can make both the sauce and meatball mixture a night in advance. Here's how:

  • Make the sauce a night ahead and store it in a glass container (to prevent staining) in the refrigerator.
  • Mix the meatball mixture and keep it in the fridge for up to one day in advance.
  • When you're ready, form the meat into oblong shapes, place them in an oiled baking dish, and pour the sauce over. Bake and serve.

Serving suggestions

The wonderful thing about meatballs in sauce is that they go well with so many things. Here are some ideas:

Close look at baked Greek meatballs and rice.

How to store and reheat leftovers

Leftover soutzoukakia will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat the meatballs and sauce in a skillet with some extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until warmed through. 

Can you freeze soutzoukakia?

I often make a double-batch of Greek baked meatballs and freeze half before baking them, so that when I'm in the mood for soutzoukakia, all I need to do is whip up the rich red sauce. Here's how to freeze uncooked Greek meatballs:

  • Arrange the meatballs in a single layer (with a little space between them so they don't freeze together) on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer for a few hours.
  • Once they're frozen solid, transfer to a deep container layered between sheets of parchment paper or a ziptop bag.
  • They will keep for up to 2 months.
  • Thaw them in the fridge overnight and bake the next day. 

If you like, you can also freeze the cooked dish. Allow the meatballs and sauce to come to room temperature and transfer to a freezer-safe bag or container. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat on the stove. You'll likely need to add a little water while the soutzoukakia reheats.

More meatball recipes

Browse All Mediterranean Recipes.

Visit Our Shop.

4.95 from 39 votes

Soutzoukakia (Greek Baked Meatballs)

Suzy Karadsheh
Greek Baked Meatballs in Red Sauce
Perfectly tender baked meatballs, prepared Greek-style with onions, garlic, spices like cumin and cinnamon, and fresh herbs in a special red sauce. Soutzoukakia taste delicious with sides like Greek salad, or over a bed of rice. Check out all my tips and tricks for the best Greek baked meatballs! This recipe makes 16 meatballs, which serves up to 8 people.
Prep – 20 mins
Cook – 1 hr 40 mins
Cuisine:
Greek
Serves – 16 meatballs
Course:
Entree

Ingredients
  

For Meatballs

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread, toast-size, toasted to a medium-brown (or use gluten free bread if you need)
  • cup whole milk
  • 1.5 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to grease the baking dish

For Red Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 30 ounces canned tomato sauce, that's 2 15-ounce cans of sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Instructions
 

  • In a small bowl, place the toasted bread and cover with milk (or water) to soak. When bread is soft and well-soaked, squeeze the liquid out completely and discard remaining milk if any.
  • Transfer the bread to a large mixing bowl. Add round beef and remaining meatball ingredients. Knead well until well-combined. Cover the meat mixture and rest in the fridge for now.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • While oven is heating, prepare the sauce. In a sauce pan or large skillet, heat 2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add onions and cook for 3 minutes or so. Add garlic and cook for another minute, stirring regularly. Now add red wine and cook to reduce by about ½, then add tomato sauce, bay leaf and remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Prepare a large baking dish and lightly oil the bottom with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Take the meat mixture out of the fridge. Wet your hands and scoop portions of about 2 ½ tablespoon of the meat mixture and form into large elongated meatballs (football-shaped.) You should have 15 to 16 meatballs or so. Arrange meatballs in the papered baking dish and top with the sauce (be sure to have removed the bay leaf from the sauce.)
  • Place the baking dish on the middle rack of your heated oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the meatballs are well cooked through (check part-way through to make sure sauce is not dry, and if needed, add a little bit of water to the bottom of the baking dish.)
  • Remove from oven and add another drizzle of EVOO. Garnish with parsley and serve over rice or orzo.

Video

Notes

  • Toast and soak bread: Do not skip this step; it gives you the juiciest meatballs!
  • What meat to use: You can use lean ground beef, or a mixture of lean ground beef and ground pork. 
  • Prepare-ahead tips: If you want to get a head start on this recipe, you can make the sauce one night in advance.  You can also mix the meat mixture one night in advance of cooking; store in the fridge in a glass container with a tight lid. 
  • Tips for leftovers: These Greek meatballs will keep for 4 days in the fridge.  Store in tight-lid glass containers. 
  • What to serve along? These meatballs are great over Lebanese rice or plain orzo. Turn this dinner into a Greek feast by adding a side of Greek Salad along with Greek Green Bean Salad or Briam! 
  • Visit Our Shop for quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oils and spices. 

Nutrition

Calories: 138.5kcalCarbohydrates: 6.9gProtein: 10.8gFat: 7.1gSaturated Fat: 2.3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 3.4gTrans Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 48.7mgSodium: 380.4mgPotassium: 357.9mgFiber: 1.4gSugar: 3.1gVitamin A: 431.1IUVitamin C: 7.6mgCalcium: 39.4mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?

*This post was recently updated with new information to make it even better!

Share it with the world

I'm Suzy; born and bred right on the shores of the Mediterranean. I'm all about easy, healthy recipes with big Mediterranean flavors. Three values guide my cooking: eat with the seasons; use whole foods; and above all, share! So happy you're here...
Learn More

Get our best recipes and all Things Mediterranean delivered to your inbox.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

How many stars would you give this recipe?




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments

  1. This was absolutely amazing! It was so easy and the flavor combinations just go so well together. This will go down as a favorite!

  2. 5 stars
    Awesome , really quick and easy , most ingredients already in pantry , the warm greek spices makes this a fantastic comfort food , i left out the bread because of banting , you do need a good quality tomato sauce to finish it off.

    1. Hi, Pam. This isn't something we've tested before, but we do have a great Vegan "Meatball" recipe you could use as a guide to replace the actual meatballs in this recipe, while still using the sauce. If you give this a try, please stop back and share your thoughts!

  3. 5 stars
    This recipe is AMAZING! My family gobbled it right up. I am curious to see how raisins would taste in the meatballs. I served it over a bed of orzo. No leftovers!

  4. 5 stars
    In the recipe step 5 and step 6 contradict each other. Step 5 says to oil the baking dish and step 6 says to use a papered baking dish. None of the photos show the dish being papered. I do love using parchment paper so I'll probably go that route. Made the sauce and meat mixture last night. I tweaked both to our personal taste. I used much more garlic and added fresh thyme leaves to both. Also added plain yogurt, lemon, and mountain oregano to the meat. I fried up some little balls to taste. Adjusted the seasoning till it tasted just right. We're going to have this tonight with some basmati rice and zucchini from the garden. At first I was pensive about adding so much cinnamon but it tastes great in there. I balanced it with pinches of coriander, ginger, dundicut and allepo pepper, ground brown mustard seed, cardomon, cloves, fennel, fenugreek, hamushka, star anice, ajwain and black cardamom in the sauce.

  5. 5 stars
    Made these for guests last night and they all raved. I used 2 lbs of meat- 1 lb gr. beef and 1 lb gr. pork- and kept the rest of the measurements the same. I did not have bread, so I used bread crumbs, but after soaking in milk the paste formed was too thick to mix nicely. Will make again and use bread! I cooked them the night before, and then reheated under foil at 350 for about 25 minutes.

  6. 4 stars
    Usually I don't comment under recepies, but yours was super easy and yamee to make. So, thank you!Also my Greek boyfriend was barely able to fault it( and he is a VERY picky eater, especially for Greek cousine). He just said that neither onions or wine belong to the sauce ( but we still love it), and for the meatballs cumin and garlic should be nearly doubled to make an authentic Greek taste. And cinnamon is apparently optional ..I loved the sauce so much that had to make more of ir by 1/3 for the same amount of meat xx

  7. 5 stars
    Loved this recipe, as well as any other one I’ve tried here! I am wondering if the meat mixture can be made ahead and frozen, then thawed and used to make meatballs at a later date as opposed to freezing leftovers? Is there any reason this wouldn’t work?

    Thanks for all the great recipes!

    1. Hi, Cathy. Since I've never tried that myself, I had to do a little research, and YES! That should work :). Just defrost the meatballs in the fridge overnight (up to 24 hours) before cooking. If you give this a go, I'd love it if you could share any feedback!

  8. I never know what to substitute for wine... I'm not a wine drinker and hate buying a bottle just for a little bit in a recipe. I also never know what "dry" wine means.
    Help please...

    1. Hi, Carla. In many recipes, you can substitute broth instead of the wine. Here, you could use a little beef or vegetable broth.

    2. 5 stars
      I don't drink either but I cook with wine all the time. It gives a flavor that can't be substituted. In wine, dry means a wine that's not sweet. Once you start cooking with wine you'll realize what you've been missing. Wine lasts a long time so you won't waste it. I always have on hand the following wines: dry red and white, marsala, sherry, prosecco (for steamer clams and other seafood dishes), plum, sake, and Mogan David blackberry which (don't laugh) makes a very interesting and delicious peppered pan sauce for beef steaks.

  9. Hi! I am just putting these in the oven now (they look and smell amazing so far!) but I want to serve them tomorrow night. I put a little of the sauce over the meatballs in the oven but still have plenty leftover. What is your best advice for reheating & serving? I am going to make some orzo tomorrow and serve it with that.

    Thanks!

  10. 5 stars
    OK, so I reviewed these about a month ago and raved about them of course! Then I had a great idea: what if I used the meatball mixture to stuff cubanelle peppers, and then cook them on the stove in the tomato sauce like my mom used to do (of course she did an Italian version)? Well, the results were amazing! You will not regret stuffing peppers with this delicious mixture and simmering them in the sauce on the stove for about 30 minutes (longer for bell peppers).