Recipe and photos by Manos Angelakis

Meatballs in tomato sauce

My Smyrna-style Meatballs
in Tomato Sauce

The original recipe was developed in the 18th century by Greek residents of Smyrna (Izmir). The original meatball ingredients, in addition to lamb, beef and pork, also call for smoked beef tongue ground or chopped very fine. Since nowadays smoked tongue is not a common ingredient I can get in a supermarket or even a specialty store, I substituted it with smoked bacon. The recipe also calls for home preserved peeled tomatoes in a jar; I like San Marzano-style plum tomatoes, so that’s what I’m using. In addition, the sauce method calls for mortar and pestle to liquefy as much as possible the cooked vegetables and then strain the sauce; I prefer my sauce on the chunky side so I bypass that step or I might pulp the mixture in a food processor.  


  • ½ lb Carrots                                        
  • 2 ribs Celery                                        
  • 2 tsp Sea Salt                                      
  • 1 ½ cup good quality Red Wine
  • 4 large cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed  
  • 2 tsp Lemon zest                                  
  • 1 tsp ground cumin 
  • 1 tsp ground sumac or spicy Spanish pimentón
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon                                         
  • 2 28 oz. cans peeled canned tomatoes, San Marzano-style preferred
  • ½ lb White Onion                               
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil                    

Method – Sauce

Chop the carrots, celery, garlic, tomatoes, and onions. Add them to a large saucepan or cast iron frying pan and sauté in the extra virgin oil until onion softens. Add the rest of the ingredients and let them cook slowly for 40 minutes; be sure to stir the sauce occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn. Let cool until meatballs are ready. Start at a medium-low boil until the fried meatballs are dropped in.


  • 1 ¼  lb Minced Lamb Shoulder            
  • 1 ¼ lb Minced Beef Chuck                
  • 1 lb Minced Pork                          
  • ½ lb Smoked Bacon chopped fine
  • 1 oz ground Parmesan or Asiago cheese                      
  • 5 oz White Bread, dipped in water and squeezed dry
  • 1.5 oz Sea Salt or to taste                              
  • 5 oz Drained yoghurt or Sour cream                             
  • 1 heaping tbsp fresh minced Garlic                 
  • 2 tsp ground Cumin                        
  • 1 Egg yolk                                
  • Flour
  • Bowl of cold water
  • Frying Oil

Method – Meatballs 

Mix all the ingredients, except the flour, water and frying oil, in a large bowl. Use hands to ensure the mixture has been well mixed and create medium-sized balls (the original shape was bullet-shaped cylinders). Refrigerate meatballs for 1 hour for the flavors to start developing. Heat a frying pan with the oil, at medium-high heat. Use flour to dredge the meatballs, remove excess flour from meat, dip in cold water, re-flour meatballs, put immediately in pan and fry them until golden brown, turning them every couple minutes to make sure all sides get cooked. Remove to paper towel to drain excess oil.


Drop fried meatballs in the sauce and cook in medium-low heat for 8 to 10 more minutes. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.

Bon appétit!




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