Cumin-Spiced Greek Meatballs Even the Gods Couldn't Resist

April 27, 2018

Greek culture embodies warmth and hospitality. It's filled with a communal spirit that exists not just in family homes, but spills out into local tavernas where friends and families gather on warm evenings to feast together while knocking back a glass of ouzo (or three). This emphasis on communality is the inspiration behind Christina Mouratoglou and Adrien Carré’s new book Mazi, which means "together" in Greek. Mazi is also the name of the restaurant run by the pair in West London, which serves sharing plates that are designed to be eaten communally.

Forget Greece's sparkly blue-green waters—we're ready to dive into that meatball-studded tomato sauce. Photo by Ty Mecham

Tired of outdated perceptions of Greek food, the team behind Mazi set out to revolutionize the cuisine with their restaurant and this book. Their menu includes items like squid ink rice puff and frozen Greek yogurt with candied quince. But it is also packed with vibrant vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and bell peppers, as well as smoky grilled meats and seasonal salads—the stuff we know and love about Greek food. The cookbook almost transports you to the bustling marketplaces of Athens and the endless, blue-green coastlines on the Aegean Sea. You will taste hints of oregano, thyme, mint, and dill with most of its recipes, and dress everything with peppery, sassy bites of extra-virgin olive oil.

As someone who regularly cooks Mediterranean food at home, many of the dishes in Mazi felt new and innovative to me, something I always relish in a cookbook. The recipes have taken influence from the many years of Ottoman and Venetian rule over Greece—a very tasty history lesson. Meals I enjoyed include the spicy tyropita (a type of layered filo pastry) stuffed with leeks and chiles, and zucchini cakes that I ate alongside a creamy cucumber and mint dip. My sweet tooth couldn’t get enough of loukoumades, a type of Greek doughnut soaked in lavender honey and topped with crushed walnuts. I now also addicted to kolokithopita, a sweet, cinnamon-spiced butternut squash pastry which is basically the love child of pumpkin pie and baklava, and is enjoyed by Greeks at Christmas.

There are a surprising number of vegan recipes in the book, a nod to the many Greeks who go vegan during Lent, the 40 days before Easter. Those avoiding gluten are also well catered for with recipes such as souvlaki (classic Greek kebabs), that are wrapped in rice paper instead of the traditional flatbreads, and taramosalata (fish roe dip), which is thickened with mashed potato instead of the traditional white bread.

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The recipe I’ve chosen to share from the book is for soutzoukakia, a hearty dish of beef and pork meatballs, roasted in the oven and then simmered in a rich tomato sauce. As I like punchy flavors, I’ve increased the spices to make the dish slightly more full-bodied and like to serve it as a part of a meze platter with some warm pita bread or as a main course with some steamed rice. The only other essential ingredient, of course, is a group of loved ones to enjoy it with together.

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Yasmin Khan is a food and travel writer and the author of the best-selling Persian cookbook The Saffron Tales.