Santorini ntomatokeftedes (tomato meatballs)
In Greece the word “keftedes” on its own means meatball, but the poor who rarely could afford meat made “keftedes” out of almost anything they could find. In the Cyclades, and indeed throughout the country, you will come across keftedes or fritters containing legumes and vegetables that grow locally, such as fennel, wild greens, courgettes, tomatoes and chickpeas, but also octopus and fish, just to mention a few. Sometimes the patties were made on the spur of the moment with whatever ingredients were to hand, other times they were whipped together with leftovers from the day before. In every case the result was a thick batter to which flour was added to both bind and coat them, before they were fried in olive oil.
While this was common practice in all the islands, some keftedes were identified with certain of the Cyclades, probably because the main ingredient was to be found in abundance locally.
In Santorini, the large production of the local tomato, which is so much less watery than tomatoes elsewhere, led to their widespread transformation into keftedes, to such an extent that they literally became one of the ambassadors of traditional Santorini cuisine.
Recipe for ntomatokeftedes:
After being washed, the tomatoes are grated or finely chopped with a knife and mixed in a bowl with chopped onions, dry and green, followed by herbs -oregano, thyme and mint- as well as salt and pepper and as much flour as needed to make a thick batter. The batter is then slipped into hot olive oil by the spoonful and fried until the fritters turn an appetizing reddish-gold colour.
This is the classic recipe which most local housewives use (the award-winning Mrs. Margarita of the Spilia tou Nikola taverna also adds a little fava to the mix), but one must take care to make the surface as smooth as possible so that the keftedes don’t crack while frying allowing oil to penetrate them. Younger cooks add a bit of cheese, eggs, capers, green peppers and various spices. I personally prefer the simplest version with just the sweet local tomato. But there is no accounting for tastes!