Have you ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Hilarious, heartwarming, and for me – reality. I think I’ve seen that movie at least ten times. I could probably watch it ten more and still laugh as hard as I did the first time because that movie hits close to home for me and my family. Allow me to explain.
My mom’s side of the family is 100% Greek. Both of her parents, my Yiayia and Papouli, were first generation Americans. My Papouli traveled from Greece to America on an American Red Cross ship and became a citizen of the United States of America in 1947. He lived and worked in Michigan with his brothers for almost twenty years, causing all kinds of trouble no doubt, before deciding it was time to get married. Off he went back to Greece to find a bride and soon brought my Yiayia over stateside. They ended up settling down in Los Angeles where my Papouli opened his namesake restaurant, Art’s. Los Angeles was also where my mom was born and where she would later begrudgingly attend Greek school. After a couple of years living back and forth between Greece and California, my mom’s family ended up settling down in Michigan because the economy was better suited for my Papouli’s business in the hospitality industry.
My dad is as American as they come, born and raised in the good ol’ Midwest. Michigan to be more specific. To my knowledge, his parents have never even travelled outside of the U.S. and I think the first time my dad traveled overseas was in his 30s or 40s. Though there’s nothing wrong with either scenario, it’s incredible how two very different lives can come together. My mom and dad met at Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They actually met on a double date, though they weren’t attending as a couple on that first date. After that fateful date, my dad pursued my mom until she finally agreed to go out with him and, of course, they fell in love because I’m here today. 😉
Enter, the American into the Greek family. When my dad asked my Papouli for permission to marry his daughter, my Papou actually tried to talk him out of it. My parents were very young when they got married and my Papou offered to pay for two more years of college for my dad to get his Bachelors degree if they’d wait. But they didn’t want to wait. So they were married in the Greek church and you better believe there was Greek dancing at the wedding. Sound familiar?
My family isn’t as big or as boisterous as the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and my Papouli definitely didn’t squirt Windex on everything. But I do have multiple cousins named Nick or Nikki, my family has been known to gather around a lamb roasting on a spit, and I can attest that Ouzo definitely gets the party started. My dad quickly became an honorary Greek, the relatives approving, “He looks Greek!” My mom’s Yiayia even used to run away from the house, just like the Yiayia in the movie. Only it wasn’t as funny as it was in the movie because my Yiayia had Alzheimer’s.
The best part about growing up in a Greek-American household was hearing those magic words, “Have you eaten?” Greeks will always make sure you’re well-fed and we know how to cook, damnit! Greek cuisine, and Mediterranean cuisine in general, are my favorite cuisines in the world. Growing up with a Mom who made all of our lunches and dinner almost every night and a Yiayia who would make whatever you asked for when you came over was so special. Homemade baklava, spanikopita, you name it! Some of my favorite family memories are centered around food, whether eating it or making it. Probably one of the reasons I love cooking so much.
This recipe is inspired by one of my favorite Greek dishes to eat both growing up and now – Keftedes. Or Greek meatballs. These are SO simple to make and a great dish to include in your weeknight rotation or to be served as an appetizer at your next party. I like creating Greek meatball pitas by baking the meatballs and serving on warmed pita with homemade tzatziki and all the accoutrements. If serving as an appetizer, I recommend rolling the balls a bit smaller, frying them, and serving with tzatziki for dipping. These Greek meatballs are also delicious alongside basmati rice, tzatziki, and a Greek salad. And not to brag, but I have the BEST tzatziki recipe.
Pinot Noir is my go to wine pairing for Greek meatball pitas. The pairing is always a palate pleaser as the pungent, earthy Greek herbs like oregano, dill and bay leaf accentuate Pinot Noir’s trademark earthiness. The herbs also highlight the red fruit notes in Pinot Noir and the velvety tannins don’t over power the more delicate parts of the dish like the tzatziki. A Beaujolais or Grenache would also make a beautiful pairing.
Check out my Greek meatball pitas recipe below for your dining pleasure. I’d love to see how you go, so tag me in a photo of your Keftedes on Instagram @palm.and.vine.
These Greek meatball pitas are delicious, easy to make, and will likely become a regular in your weeknight dinner rotation. Modeled after a Greek classic, Keftedes, this version involves baking the meatballs for a healthier twist. If serving the meatballs as an appetizer with tzatziki, I'd recommend going the traditional route and frying the meatballs. Fried or baked, these meatballs are also delicious served with basmati rice, tzatziki, and a Greek salad.
- 500 grams ground beef (18 ounces)
- 200 grams ground pork (7 ounces)
- 6-7 mint leaves, chopped
- hefty pinch salt and pepper
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 small white onion, grated
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 package of your favorite pita bread
- 1-2 tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup iceberg lettuce, chopped
- 1/4 cup red onion, diced
- feta cheese (to garnish)
To prepare the Greek meatballs (keftedes), add all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix well using your hands (5 minutes). Squeeze with your hands while mixing to allow the ingredients to combine. If the mixture isn't firm enough, add more breadcrumbs as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
If baking the meatballs, preheat the oven to 200°C or about 400°F. Take the mixture out of the refrigerator and roll into the shape of meatballs about the size of a walnut (or bigger if you prefer). Place meatballs on a greased baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for about 20 minutes, turning the meatballs over halfway through the cooking time.
If frying, dredge the meatballs lightly in flour after shaping them. Make sure to dust off any excess flour. Using a deep fry or candy thermometer, bring the oil up to 350-375°F (about 175-190°C). I like to use avocado oil for frying. Healthier than vegetable oil and has a very high smoke point. You can fry the meatballs in a shallow pan or cast iron skillet. Place the meatballs on a dish lined with paper towel after frying to absorb any excess oil.
To assemble the Greek meatball pitas, wrap a stack of pitas in aluminum foil and place in the oven for 3-5 minutes to warm. Once the pitas are warmed, place 3+meatballs on each pita. Garnish with lettuce, tomato, red onion, crumbled feta, and tzatziki. Enjoy!