Yia Yia Karen’s Greek Meatballs

We love to sit around in the evening and instead of a full course meal, we enjoy a full platter of “meze.” For me, it is a way to be creative with what we have in the fridge without spending a lot of time and effort on prepping and preparing a full meal. So, what exactly is a meze? It actually is not an appetizer, rather a small meal course, so I guess it is a bit like an appetizer (although meze dishes are several different plates served at the same time). They can be hot, cold, spicy, savory, salty or creamy and flambé. It is nice to have an assortment of small portions of foods to compliment the beverages served and, of course, it always adds a fun alternative to the regular snacks of chips and dips. I know you, like me, have been guilty of opening a can of bean dip, heating it and topping it with crumbled cotija Mexican cheese, just to step up your game and served it with salsa that you’ve added chopped jalapeños, mangos, etc. to and called it a Tex-Mex meze … treat! Of course, you probably do what I do and buy the best chips you can and ta da … you are ready for company. Well, today we’re enjoying a “mass of meze.” So, please “Join our table” as we pass a couple of easy, small plates of meze …

Sweet and Spicy Meat Balls … Greek Style

I make this quite often as one of my meze plates. Feel free to copy, make and take credit for this unique dish. BTW … the cinnamon sticks make a great presentation for these lollipop-looking meatballs.


1/2 lb. ground beef

1 1/2 lb. ground lamb

1 egg beaten

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/3 cup onion, finely minced

2 tablespoons flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped finely, no stems

1/3 cup fresh Greek oregano leaves, minced, no stems

1 teaspoon crumbled, dried Greek oregano (not ground)

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, no stems, minced or 3 tablespoons dried mint

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon Greek seasoning

1/2 cup crumbled, stale breadcrumbs (or use panko instead)

* Additional 1/2 cup panko for rolling the meatballs in it

1/2 cup of wine or ouzo, separated

24-30 small cinnamon sticks for effect, looks cool and makes a great handle to pick them up or you can use rosemary spears

Crumbled feta cheese (optional)


1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon Greek thyme honey (if available, if not use local honey)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 cup homemade or store-bought marinara sauce

Remaining wine or ouzo

DIRECTIONS/MEATBALLS: In a medium sized bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of the wine, breadcrumbs, parsley, mint, fresh oregano and meat. Add the garlic, cumin, Greek seasoning, pepper, oregano, onions, cinnamon, allspice, paprika, cayenne pepper and egg. Mix well and incorporate all the ingredients. Refrigerate at least half an hour or overnight. Remove from fridge and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take about two big tablespoons of the meat mixture for each meatball and form it into approximately 25-30 meatballs. Insert a cinnamon stick into each meatball, leaving about 2-3 inches of stick sticking out. Place back in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up the meatballs. In a small bowl, pour 1/2 cup of the wine or ouzo, dip the meatballs in the 1/2 cup of the wine or ouzo, then roll the meatballs in the remaining panko breadcrumbs. Oil a flat, deep, sheet cake pan and place the meatballs side by side in one layer. Bake in the middle of a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes until the tops become brown. Remove from oven, roll the meatballs over and return to oven for 5 more minutes while you make the sauce.

DIRECTIONS/SAUCE: Place about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a 2-quart pan. Add the marinara sauce, honey, and cinnamon and remaining 1/4 cup wine or ouzo. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and carefully serve on a plate topped with 3-4 meatballs. Top with crumbled feta cheese (optional).

Baked Olives with Lemon and Spice


4 1/2 cups mixed whole Greek olives

4 strips lemon peel or 1 1/2 tablespoons, grated

1 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes

1 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (I use Greek oregano.)

1/2 teaspoon Greek or Italian seasoning

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make a double layer pouch of foil for the olives. Add lemon peel, red pepper flakes, cumin seeds, oregano and Greek seasoning to olives, then top with olive oil. Seal the pouch tightly and gently shake it to mix up the spices and oil. Place in a 350-degree oven for about 7- 10 minutes to heat them through. Carefully cut the foil pouch open and pour contents into a serving bowl. Serve with your favorite cheese, salami and baguette slices. Set out a small bowl to hold the discarded olive pits.

Karen Boughton
Author: Karen BoughtonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I grew up in a big, Greek, cooking family. I married my high school sweetheart and soon had three daughters. My husband and I worked in the family’s Greek restaurant, “Zorba’s,” for several years before moving to Baton Rouge and eventually Corpus Christi. There I taught microwave cooking classes for Amana.in studio and on television for three years before moving to Kingwood in the late '80s. I reached out to learn more about regional and international foods, spending 16 years in management in private athletic/dining/country clubs for ClubCorp, where I embraced health and cooking. In 2008 I joined the Tribune Newspapers as food editor, the same time that I became a nutrition advisor and USANA Health Sciences Associate. These two passions have given me better health and the freedom to live life my way.

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