Greek Meatballs in Tangy Tomato Sauce

  • Author: Dana Gerard
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 50 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 mins
  • Yield: 16 servings 1x
  • Category: Main Course
  • Cuisine: Greek

Meatballs filled with rice and spices get a kick from tangy tomato sauce thickened with Greek yogurt or sour cream. A great appetizer, dinner or filling for sandwiches. Freeze uncooked meatballs and heat through in tomato sauce next week for a no fuss dinner or leisurely Sunday lunch.


  • For the meatballs:
  • 1 cup cooked rice, at room temperature (5 1/2 oz/160 gm)
  • 1/2 medium onion*
  • 1 large clove garlic, mashed*
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (2 oz/60 gm)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves (3 gm)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 pound 80/20 ground beef (ground chuck or 3/4 pound ground lamb or veal + 1/4 pound ground pork)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (to brown meatballs)
  • 4 cups tangy tomato sauce, below (or ready made tomato sauce)
  • For the Tangy Tomato Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (30 ml)
  • 28 oz can Italian tomatoes or 6 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped (28 oz/760 gm)
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic, chopped or pressed (about 3 cloves)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil or oregano or 3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh
  • 1/3 cup capers (1 3/4 oz/50 gm)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped lemon zest (1 large or 2 small lemons)
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine (6 oz/180 ml)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup thickened Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • * The garlic and onions in this recipe can be raw or cooked. I personally like to roast my garlic and saute the onions until soft before adding them to the meatballs. This is optional.


  1. For the meatballs: In a medium size bowl, mix together first nine ingredients, from rice through egg (everything except olive oil and meat). Crumble ground meat and mix gently just until thoroughly combined with a fork or your hands. Dip your fingers in a little olive oil so the meat mixture does not stick. Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, roll mixture between your palms into small balls, about 1/2 oz or 15-20 gm each. Place on a plate or small baking sheet lined with parchment or foil and cook right away or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to two days or freeze up to one month.
  2. To fry meatballs: use a large, non-reactive skillet to heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Fry as many meatballs as you can without crowding in one layer. Shake pan and turn meatballs to brown on all sides, 8 -10 minutes. They should still be pink inside. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.
  3. To bake meatballs instead: Preheat oven to 350 F. Place meatballs on two baking sheets and cook for 25-30 minutes. Remove and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to blot excess oil.
  4. Serve meatballs warm with sauce on the side or gently heat meatballs in 4 cups/32 oz ready made tomato sauce until heated through.
  5. For the Tangy Tomato Sauce: Use the same skillet or pot to heat oil over medium high heat. Add tomatoes and garlic and stir until bubbling, 1 minute. Add in basil or oregano, capers, lemon zest, wine and salt and continue cooking another five minutes, until tomatoes are soft and the sauce is bubbling. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt or sour cream. For a smoother sauce, blend until smooth with an immersion stick or blender. Use right away or cover and chill in the refrigerator up to three days. Reheat gently over low heat before using. Makes about 4 cups of sauce.
  6. To use the sauce right away: return meatballs to the sauce and partially cover the pan. Simmer over low heat until meatballs are cooked through, 3-4 minutes.
  7. Serve: Transfer warm meatballs and sauce to a bowl or platter, sprinkle with chopped mint or parsely leaves and serve. Spear with toothpicks or place over a bed of fluffy white rice or your favorite pasta.
  8. Makes 46 small meatballs, about 3 meatballs for 15-16 people.
  9. See nutrition information below.


Adapted slightly from Susanna Hoffman’s The Olive and the Caper, Beef and Rice Meatballs in Yogurt-Tomato Sauce and Claudia Roden’s Simple Mediterranean Cooking