Spiced Meatballs in Tomato Sauce: Soutzoukakia Smyrneika


Melt-in-your-mouth Smyrneika Soutzoukakia are comforting meatballs with notes of cinnamon and cumin in a luscious, thick tomato sauce.  ‘Σουτζουκακια σμυρνεικα’ originate from the Greeks of Smyrna, Turkey (now named Izmir). 

What makes these Middle-Eastern Spiced meatballs a favourite is the rich and hearty depth of flavour enhanced by the cinnamon and cumin.  The meatballs are made tender and soft as they are simmered in an equally perfectly-spiced vibrant and hearty tomato sauce.

spiced meatballs tomato sauce

Τhis dish is very much dear to me, as my husband’s family originates from Smyrna and although I myself are of Laconian-Greek heritage,  making this dish pays respectful homage to the people of Smyrna and their tragic history.

Making Soutzoukakia Smyrneika

This recipe uses bread instead of breadcrumbs.  I like to use rye bread but a wholemeal bread will do.  You could soak the bread with milk or water, but I find this not necessary. If you do soak the bread and strain, you risk the meatball mix being too soft for cooking.  With a blender, add the bread, onion, garlic, fresh parsley and mint, half the spice quantity and blitz.  

mediterranean meatballs

To bake, grill the Soutzoukakia or Simmer in a Casserole Dish?

Look around on Social Media and you will find so many variations to this dish. Some recipes call to bake the meatballs instead of coating them in flour and then frying.  Some recipes, tell you to not detour from the traditional recipe – and that is to fry first then simmer in the sauce. 

Baking the meatballs drains them of their juices – and you can try this for yourself to see.  Conversely, coating in flour and then frying leaves you with a meatball that has absorbed way too much oil.  What we do here is to use a non-stick shallow pan with a sparing amount of olive oil ( use a spray if you like) – and cook the meatballs enough for the surface of the meatball to form a seal. Turn the meatballs over while they are in the skillet, I simply shake the pan so the meatballs roll-over on their own.  You will also find, the meatballs don’t fall apart when you haven’t handled them too much.

How to use Spices

The first step is to use the spices correctly in order to activate and release their flavour into the beef.  Spices are added into the beef mixture – this is not the unusual step for this recipe. 

Once the beef meatballs are browned nicely but not cooked through, we lower the heat to medium.  Add the spices then reduce the heat one last time to low. This will help the spices release their flavours. 

No amount of simmering will extract as much flavour from them as a spice-infused oil will.

Shake the pan to move the meatballs around to collect the activated spices and coat the meatballs. Reduce the heat one last time to low. This will help the spices release their flavours slowly and become aromatic.  At this step, I gently add the tomato sauce which has been simmering slowly in a separate saucepan.

soutzoukakia smyrneika

MakinG A LUSH and flavourful tomato sauce with the soutzoukakia

If you have a peek at the ingredient list for the sauce, you’ll notice there aren’t really all that many ingredients.   The secret to the sauce is to keep it simple use good quality tomatoes and give it time to gently simmer and develop in the saucepan. So, your first step will in fact, be assembling the sauce and allowing it to gently simmer while you’re making the meatballs. 

Something to note, Lycopene is a potent antioxidant found in tomatoes. Heating tomatoes has been shown to increase the amount of Lycopene the body can digest as the walls of the plant cells break down, releasing into the body.  Do note, a gentle simmer is the best way to heat the tomato as anything higher than 140 degrees will degrade the Lycopene.  

tomato sauce simmering
simmering the tomato sauce
What to serve with Soutzoukakia

I usually serve soutzoukakia with mashed potatoes, but the traditional way would be to accompany the soutzoukakia with a serve of steamed rice as pictured above.

So now that I have overloaded you with advice you are ready to make lush flavoursome Greek Soutzoukakia.

soutzoukakia smyrneika

Soutzoukakia Smyrneika: Spiced Meatballs in Tomato Sauce:

Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Melt-in-your-mouth Smyrneika Soutzoukakia are comforting meatballs with notes of cinnamon and cumin in a luscious, thick tomato sauce.  'Σουτζουκακια σμυρνεικα' originate from the Greeks of Smyrna, Turkey (now named Izmir). 


  • 45 ml olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 slices rye bread
  • 1/4 cup milk or water
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup mint
  • 750g ground beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder (optional)
  • salt, pepper seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin - extra
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon extra
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Tomato Sauce

  • 25 ml olive oil
  • 800g tomato passata with pulp
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2-4 cups hot water


Make the Sauce

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan in medium heat and add the garlic - allow to turn a translucent colour but be careful not to burn the garlic.

Add the tomato and cinnamon stick and simmer. When the sauce starts to bubble reduce the heat, simmer for 5 minutes then add 2 cups hot water and the cinnamon stick.

Reduce heat, allow to simmer on low with a lid on the saucepan for nearly as long as you are making the meatballs - 30 minutes. Check it intermittently, and add a little of your reserved water each time-to ensure the sauce does not dry up.

Remove cinnamon stick when you are done.

Prepare the Meatballs

In a blender, add the bread, onion, garlic, parsley, mint, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of coriander powder ( optional ), salt and pepper and blitz together.

Mix together the beef, bread mix and egg. Use a glove to mix through thoroughly. Shape into egg-shaped balls or round balls.

Allow the meatballs to rest in the fridge. This will help the meatballs hold their shape whilst cooking.

Use a sift to very lightly dust the meatballs all over. Using a sift is the best way to avoid having excess flour on the meatballs. A very light coating, almost transluscent is all you need.

Use a non-stick pan to heat the oil. Carefully add the meatballs and cook on each side until they change colour to brown but not blacken and not cooked all the way through. There is still more cooking for them, in the sauce.

Shake the pan gently, rather than handling the meatballs works best when you are ready to turn them over.

Reduce heat to low, add the additional spices. The spices activate when they touch the pan. Shake the pan so the meatballs are coated with the spices.

Gently, poor simmered tomato sauce and allow to simmer for 25 - 35 minutes on low. Keep an eye on the liquid levels add a dash of hot water to supplement if needed.

Serve with mashed potatoes, or steamed rice. Top with feta cheese and parsley.


Please read the extract before the recipe prior to starting. It is all relevant to the recipe.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 390Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 106mgSodium: 319mgCarbohydrates: 18gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 25g

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