I’ve been on a major appetizer kick lately, as you can tell from all of the appetizers I’ve been posting recently (there are still some great ones coming up really soon so I hope you’re not tired of this direction). I feel like everyone needs a good arsenal of appetizers up their sleeves to choose from, just in case you need to entertain a horde of people at the very last minute. Starters for some reason are always the hardest for me to decide on. I want that first bite that people taste to be very special, so I take my time in deciding what to make. I figure that with all of these appetizers on the site, it’ll make it easier on you when you go to plan your next dinner party or celebration. My newest addiction comes from my love of tapas restaurants. The idea of having an entire meal comprised of small dishes that are meant to be shared with your friends and family, with a few cocktails in hand obviously, just sounds fun and exciting, doesn’t it? It does.
I’ve been to a few restaurants that actually serve spicy meatballs as an appetizer. I order them all the time because what’s not to love about meat rounds cooked in a red tomato sauce, sans pasta? Most of the time they’re always Italian flavored, which makes sense because spaghetti and meatballs, but I wanted to think outside of the box and give this favorite appetizer of mine a makeover. Whenever I want to make anything over, I automatically think Mediterranean because I feel like those fresh flavors have so much potential and can really transform almost anything. These Spicy Mediterranean Meatballs taste just like a Greek salad, if a Greek salad was filled with ground beef and pork. The ultimate Mediterranean meatball would actually be made with ground lamb, because that just makes sense to me, but I’m not always a fan of lamb so I decided to keep some traditional things the way they were hence the ground beef and pork. So the next time you’re looking for a great appetizer to impress a crowd, remember that I made these meatballs once and they were irresistible.
These are super easy meatballs to make. You just make everything in a large bowl, and then just mix with your hands until well combined and evenly incorporated.
**Note: If you don’t want to get your hands all dirty and gunky, feel free to mix with a spoon or spatula. I just feel that you’ll get a more even mixture if you use your hands. Plus isn’t half the fun of making meatballs, being able to do it by hand?**
I love these meatballs, because of the flavor and because you can see and taste all of the ingredients in it. The chunks from the sundried tomatoes with the onion, spinach and feta just really throw it over the edge.
**Tip: If you really want to take things further, feel free to add in sliced olives! Use a mix of pitted green and black olives for the best flavor!**
Shape the meatballs into ball the size of a golf ball and place them on a baking sheet. Make sure that they’re all relatively the same size, as that will ensure that they cook evenly and at the same time.
**Tip: If you want to make sure the meatballs are all the same size, use a medium or small ice cream scoop to shape them!**
Set the meatballs off to the side to set for a bit, and then work on the spicy tomato sauce. Sauté the onions, garlic, and jalapeño until soft and translucent. Stir in the crushed and diced tomatoes and season liberally. Then lower the flame, cover and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until slightly reduced.
**Note: Make sure to place a lid on it while it simmers, because if not, you’ll end up with red tomato sauce splatters literally everywhere!**
While the sauce simmer, brown the meatballs in a separate skillet with a little bit of olive oil. It’s important to note that we’re not looking too cook these meatballs all the way through, but rather just brown them and develop a good crust and great flavor. Make sure to turn them around so that they brown on all sides.
Brown the meatballs in batches so that you don’t over crowd the skillet and bring down the temperature and then in turn end up steaming the meatballs instead of browning them. Transfer the browned meatballs onto a platter and continue cooking the rest.
Once the sauce has reduced slightly and cooked, nestle the meatballs into the sauce in a single layer. It’s over if they’re slightly crowded.
**Note: It’s important to have a large enough skillet to be able to fit the sauce and all of the meatballs, so get your biggest pan out!**
Sprinkle the meatballs with shredded mozzarella and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes. We’re looking to finish cooking off the meatballs and melting the cheese and really infuse the sauce into them.
Once done, sprinkle the top with feta, and garnish with a few basil leaves. If the leaves are small, keep them whole, but if they’re big, feel free to just tear the leaves up and sprinkle them on. The pop of green and freshness from the herb will really complete the dish.
I like to serve this as an appetizer or starter to a meal with lots of grilled sliced bread. To do that, I slice a baguette in thin diagonal slices, brush them with oil and then grill them on a stovetop grill pan until charred and slightly crispy.
**Tip: If you don’t have a stovetop grill pan, you can definitely toast the bread in the oven or under the broiler. Just make sure to keep an eye on them under the broiler as it’ll burn quickly.**
You could also serve these with warm pita bread to really have that overall Mediterranean or Greek flavor. The soft warm pita bread would be perfect for mopping up all of that spicy tomato sauce. Don’t forget to serve them with a few cold glasses of beer and fresh lemon wedges for added freshness.
The great thing about this appetizer is that you can quickly and easily turn it into a full meal! You can cook the meatballs all the way through during the searing/browning process and then just toss the spicy tomato sauce together with cooked spaghetti or linguine and then stir in the meatballs. You’ll have a Mediterranean style spaghetti and meatballs dish that is perfect for dinner!
I like to make these as a starter to a dinner party because people go crazy for them. At first glance, they look just like regular meatballs, but once you bite into them, you’ll instantly taste and see all of those delicious and fresh Mediterranean ingredients. If you’re having a tapas themed dinner, this Charred Feta with Homemade Pita is the perfect sidekick! These Mediterranean Chicken Calzones would also be killer!
**If you cook any of the recipes from The Candid Appetite, be sure to snap a pic and share on Instagram using the #CandidAppetite or #TheCandidAppetite hashtags! I love to see your pictures!**
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup plain bread crumbs
- 1 small red onion, diced (about ½ cup)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ⅓ cup diced sundried tomatoes
- 1 (9-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- ½ cup crumbled feta
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small jalapeño, seeded and diced
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 (14-ounce) can fired roasted diced tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed dried chili flakes
- ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup crumbled feta
- fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- french baguette, sliced and grilled or toasted
- In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients and mix with your hands until evenly combined and well incorporated. Shape into balls, about the size of a golf ball and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
- Set a large skillet over medium-high heat with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Once hot, brown the meatballs in batches, for about 3 to 4 minutes per side. We're not looking to cook them through all the way, just brown them and get a good sear. Transfer to a plate or platter and continue browning the rest, set aside.
- Either in the same skillet or a clean cast iron skillet (depending on how big or dirty the skillet gets) heat another tablespoon of olive oil. Once hot, add the onions, garlic, and jalapeño and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the crushed and diced tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, oregano, and crushed chili flakes. Lower flame, cover and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly reduced by half. Nestle the meatballs into the sauce, making sure to fit them into the pan in a single layer. Top with shredded cheese and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven, sprinkle with feta and garnish with basil. Serve warm with the grilled bread slices. Enjoy!