Introduction: YiaYia's Soutzoukia (Greek ''meatballs'' in Tomato Sauce) Traditional Greek Food But Vegan!!
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If you have been in Greece you surely have tried the Greek cuisine as well, especially if you visited one of the traditional ''Taverna" in Athens or in some Greek island.
Although the word ''soutzouki'' (in Greek ''σουτζούκι'') comes from the Turkish word ''suckuk'', it's not a traditional Turkish meal, but it originated from the Greek population which lived in Asia Minor under Turkocracy (Ottoman period) around the 15th Century. Since then, it's a best favorite Greek traditional meal cooked and served in almost every Greek home especially as Sunday lunch in the winter period.
My grandmother is Greek (which in Greek is pronounced YiaYia = granny) and I am very proud of my origins so that I wanted to make this Instructable to show a very small sample of how she taught me to cook. But this recipe has a slight change.... There is no meat! Tradionally ground meat is used but I wanted to make the vegan version of this meal which was one of my favorite when a was little. I assure you that the taste is the same if not even better in the vegan version!
Trust me on this one!
Step 1: All You Need Is Just 3 Major Ingredients....
... which are:
- 500gr lentils (I used the green-brown kind)
- 750ml tomato sauce
- 4 cups of rice (but it depends on for how many you're going to cook)
... and some seasonings of course!
Kitchenware you're going to need is:
- a pot
- a pan
- a blender
- baking trays
- baking paper
You have to start preparing the lentils:
1. Rinse the lentils under running water and pick through them to remove any bits of soil or rocks.
2. Start boiling the lentils. The best way for doing that is boiling at very high temperature for the first 15-20mins so that any waste will volatilize and you don't have to throw the water of the first boiling, in which nutrients (like iron) are present. Leave the lid ajar a bit so that they don’t boil over. Check on them occasionally to make sure the water has not boiled down below the level of the lentils and add more as needed. When the lentils are tender and can easily be mashed with a fork, they are done. It usually takes about 30-45 minutes for them to cook.
3. When they are finished cooking, take the pot off the heat and drain them. It's very important that you don't leave water! When you'll ground them in the blender you'll need a firm mix and not a creamy one.
4. Blend the drained lentils till you get a firm mixture. Don't worry if not all the lentils are smashed, you will knead the mix anyway.
Step 2: Make the Sauce Meanwhile...
As your lentils boil I advice you to prepare the tomato sauce! You can use ready to use tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes. I'm sure anyone has theirs own way to make sauce but I like to use plenty of seasonings!
Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and fry some carrots or onions if you like. Put the tomato sauce and stir well. Add your favorite seasonings besides salt: my favorites for the tomato sauce are sweet paprika, ground garlic, nutmeg, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of brown raw sugar, fresh oregano and fresh basil. Exeperiment a little bit with seasonings to find the combination you like the most!
When the sauce have the taste you like but be careful with the consistency (which must not too firm), turn the pan off the heat and leave it apart while you're making the soutzoukia.
Step 3: Time to Make Soutzoukia!
In this part you should pay attention, because it's really important to shape the ''meatballs'' in an oblong shape (that's why the whole point on naming them soutzoukia).
Knead the ground lentils with spices you prefer, but usually sweet paprika, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, garlic are best used. Sometimes, I like to add some seeds as well like flax seeds and sesame seeds but it is totally optional, is just a personal hint!
If your mixture will result a bit sticky, add some flour,bread crumbs or oat flour. I advice to use the latter because the oats have the amazing ability to easily absorb water and so your mix will be firmer. Put the mix in the fridge for 30 mins to let the ingredients combine well.
Then, the second most important step is to cook the soutzoukia before you cook them into the tomato sauce. This will prevent them to crumble when you will cook them into the sauce. There are two ways to do that: the firstand traditional way is to roll the soutzoukia in some flour (I usually use white flour combined with chickpea flour) and shallow fry gently in olive oil till golden brown. The second way is to bake them in the oven at 180°C on baking paper till golden brown.
In a baking pan pour a little quantity of tomato sauce and add the soutzoukia being careful to place them in a single layer. Add the remaining sauce to completely cover them and bake at 180-200°C till the sauce have thicken.
Traditionally the soutzoukia are served with rice but you can serve them with smashed potatoes as well!
If you prefer the rice like I do, then boil the rice and when perfectly cooked drain the water.
When I was little my grandmother used to make a trick with the rice that I totally loved! She used to shape the rice into a glass, pressed it with a spoon to let the air out and then turned it upside down to let the rice slip outside the glass on the plate. If the rice won't slip, help carefully yourself with a knife and just let the air out from the sides. I call them the ''rice towers''!
Step 4: Serve and Enjoy!
At this point all you have to do is... eat!
I advice you to let them 10min in the sauce to cool and then serve with plenty of tomato sauce and rice or smashed potatoes!
I hope you liked my vegan version of this traditional recipe and even though you're not vegan, I totally recommend you to try this out!
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