Last Saturday night, I had a craving for meatballs. The tender Italian/American kind that are nearly equal parts meat (veal, pork, beef) and bread and cheese. My favorite recipe for those is in the Rao’s Cookbook, which is a stand-by in my kitchen for simple American-style Italian food.
But then a friend invited us to eat the dangerously indulgent curries at Rang Mahal, a North Indian restaurant in Bangkok that is as good (eh, let's be honest... better) than anywhere I’ve eaten in North India. My wife and I made plans to go. But we were out far too late the night before, and I had work to do that Sunday, so we missed the Indian brunch I’d been looking forward to. And then my meatball craving underwent a metamorphosis.
In the kitchen, I struck up a deal with stomach. I decided to make kofta, heavily spiced meatballs that probably originated in Persia and are done in different ways across the Middle East. They are also a mainstay in the meat-heavy cuisine of the Mughals in India. And they’re delicious and surprisingly easy to make.
Here’s how to do it:
Pound to a paste in a mortar and pestle, or whack in your food processor, these fresh ingredients:
1.5” nub of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 small, green chilies, deseeded
½ a white onion
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
A handful of coriander leaves
3 tbs yogurt
Then, mix this mixture with 500g (a little more than a pound) ground lamb or ground beef (that’s what I used here – lowly food writers don’t grind imported lamb). Mix it well – working the paste through the meat. Then add these dry spices, and mix it again. The best part about making meatballs is playing with all that cool, fragrant meat. Embrace it...
2 tsp cumin, ground (better if you toast cumin seeds and grind yourself. It only takes 2 minutes and it smells amazing. Supermarket dust also acceptable.)
1 ½ tsp ground coriander seed
1 ½ tsp garam masala powder
¼ tsp roasted red chili powder
1 ½ tsp salt
Refrigerate that mixture for about an hour. Then take it out, roll into small balls, and fry with a tiny amount of oil until cooked through (you can also grill, kebab-style). Your meatballs should be about half the size of a ping-pong ball (that’s pretty small), and should take about 7 mins to cook in a hot pan. Roll em around by shaking the pan to cook evenly. Push the stubborn ones around with your finger.
Serve with raita (plain yogurt with chopped shallots, cucumbers, salt, or whatever else you put in it) and rice. Throw a vegetable curry in the mix (we cooked a cabbage dish with tumeric from the Punjab), and you’re golden. I also served chicken shorba, a soup, on the side. It was cheap, not all that time consuming compared to other Indian meals, and really delicious.