Or Smyrna soutzoukakia (plural: soutzoukakia / singular: soutzoukaki, from the Turkish word “sucuk”) as we call them in Greece, are oblong meatballs immersed in a spicy and fragrant tomato sauce and they are considered one of the most delectable Greek dishes. It is said that the recipe for soutzoukakia came to Greece together with the refuges from Smyrna and this is why its name points to this Ancient Greek city.
Since soutzoukakia were the number one in my childhood’s top ten foods, I always wanted to develop a vegan recipe with vegan meatballs and the exact same taste and texture I still remember from the times my mum used to take us to that specific restaurant that made the best soutzoukakia in the whole world. For this purpose I use soaked green lentils -not cooked, as I want texture- and oat flour instead of the eggs, that works as a binding ingredient. The rest of the ingredients and cooking methods I use are exactly the same the original recipe calls for.
Now you may wonder if my vegan soutzoukakia turn out like those I used to eat as a child. The answer is that they turn out much better! Basically we have to consider two things. The first one is the spicy and garlicky tomato sauce which is as flavorful as the original and actually it thickens even better owing to the starches that lentil-balls contain. The second thing is the lentil-balls themselves, the really tricky part of the recipe! Well, I am proud to say that they have the same firm, chewy texture, emanate the aromas of cumin, garlic, cinnamon and allspice and regarding the taste -oh gods!- they are scrumptious, mildly more sweet and just as spicy. Keep in mind that the herbs and spices as well as the olive oil play a central role in the recipe so I would suggest not to omit any of those listed, in order to achieve an authentic experience.
for the lentil-balls
- 300 g dried green lentils
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, grated
- 1 garlic clove, finely grated
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ – ¾ cup ground oats or oatmeal (use gluten free if you want)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
for the tomato sauce
- 2-3 fresh ripe tomatoes, grated
- 1 package (400 g) tomato passata
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6-7 allspice berries
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup red wine
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Soak lentils overnight (at least 8 hours) and drain. Process them in the food-processor until mushy and transfer in a bowl. Add the onion, parsley, garlic and spices and knead adding gradually the oatmeal until the mixture is consistent and you can shape tangerine-sized balls.
2. Shape oblong meatballs and place on a tray, lined with parchment paper.
3. In a saucepan put enough olive oil and fry the meatballs from both sides until brown. Alternatively, you can bake in the oven at 200 oC for approximately 40 minutes (but you should try them at least once fried!). Transfer to a platter.
4. Prepare the sauce: Choose a large, deep skillet. Put into it the olive oil, the garlic cloves and allspice and saute for 1 minute. Add the wine and the rest of the ingredients. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer for a quarter.
5. Place the lentil-balls carefully in the sauce, but do not overload the skillet as they will increase in volume after absorbing the sauce.
6. Cook for ten more minutes over low heat, turning them upside down one or two times to be fully covered with the sauce. Turn off the heat let them sit for fifteen to thirty minutes for the aromas and tastes to combine.
7. Serve hot with mashed potatoes or rice.