Growing up meatballs were a pretty regular fixture in our house. My mom would often serve them with pasta. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned the meatballs I’d eaten at home with weren’t the ones most others had. Meatballs for most families seemed to be either the Italian or Swedish variety. In my family though meatballs were keftedes, though we didn’t call them that because we didn’t know enough about Greek food, culture and language to know there was a special name for them. We simply called them Greek meatballs without knowing what made them different from other kinds of meatballs.
What made the meatballs I grew up with unique and Greek meatballs are the spices used in them, in my family, specifically spearmint. I’ve done a lot of poking about in recipes on the Internet and it seems like some of the recipes for keftedes I’ve encountered don’t include spearmint. Some recipes say “mint” but it isn’t clear whether they mean spearmint or peppermint. I assume spearmint because that is what they sell at the grocery store and what is used in cooking savory dishes. Maybe it is a regional thing or just something my family did for a now lost reason but our recipe explicitly uses spearmint. From my perspective there is a very distinct difference between peppermint and spearmint. There are two different posts which do a good job of explaining the similarities and differences, which you are getting when you buy “mint” at the grocery store, which a recipe likely refers to when it says “mint” and when to think about using each in cooking.
Spearmint was such an important seasoning in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen that my maternal grandfather grew and dried it every year. Personally I never really liked the dried and crushed stuff my Grammy T and Mom used because the texture seemed off. I think this is because the stems weren’t getting crushed enough when either of them crushed it to use. The summer I grew spearmint and dried it I discovered the solution to this was to grind the dried spearmint in my spice grinder and pick out any weird stem pieces.
Even though I’ve solve the texture issue, most of the time I make Italian meatballs because I brain still thinks about texture of the dried spearmint stem twigs when I think of Greek meatballs. Its a shame really because the spearmint flavor is really nice if you are making these for a pita sandwich or an appetizer. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to retrain my brain. In the meantime, I fake my brain out and make “kofta” which is the Middle Eastern name/version also with spearmint, typically fresh.