The first time I saw or heard of octopus meatballs were from Maria’s blog at Kali Orexi (BonAppeti. Maria is a Greek blogger resided in the NYC suburbs and she shares dishes she’s created or ones inspired by her ancestral homeland of the island of Kalymnos. For those not familiar with Greek geography, Kalymnos is located in the east Aegean, near Turkey and the closest major Greek island being Kos. Kalymnos is also famous for its sponge divers, traditional local cooking with includes Easter goat stuffed with rice, herbs and organ meat.
Before the Kalymnians celebrate their Easter feast, there has to be a fasting period and one of their unique dishes has to be these meatballs made of ground octopus meat. One simply grinds-up cooked octopus, adds onions, garlic, herbs and some binder to hold everything together. Many recipes call for using whole octopus but I’d rather use the tentacles whole for grilling.
Before any octopus can be enjoyed it must be cooked and it must be tender. My favourite way is to braise slowly in its own liquid. About half of the octopus’ weight is water and after you’ve braised it you’ll easily see that it has shrunk to about half. This braising process takes anywhere from 45 minutes for a small octopus to over two hours for the largest beasties. Once the octopus is fork-tender – it’s good to eat and then one may grill, pickle or enjoy the octopus in any one of the many ways I’ve enjoyed this delicacy from the sea.
The octopus consists of 8 tentacles and the head. All are edible but the head usually is not served – the chef or host/hostess get to eat this part. The head isn’t that attractive but it is every bit as edible as the esthetically appealing tentacles. Another reason why I chose to share this octopus meatballs recipe is because I learned that many simply discard or throw out the head…a sin to throw perfectly edible food!
My solution is to keep the head, grind up the meat in your food processor and use the mince to make these meatballs. If you’re not fasting you may use egg and breadcrumbs as binder, some scallions of sweated onions for flavour and the usual Greek herbs like oregano and mint. Dill would also work wonderfully here.
If you’re fasting, you can avoid egg and use more breadcrumbs or take my advice and use a medium-sized boiled potato that gets grated into the mixture with the octopus mince. The starches from potatoes make for a wonderful binder and your meatballs with have a hint of seafood flavour (I like the taste of seafood) and when fried, they remarkably taste like “meatballs”. Love octopus? You’ll love these octopus meatballs, a fantastic morsel that’s ideal for your meze table with Ouzo on ice. Kali Orexi!
For the Octopus Meatballs (χταποδοκεφτεδες) recipe and more, please buy my Everything Mediterranean cookbook.
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