Malabari Lamb Meatball Curry

A friend recently recommended an Indian cookbook to me called 5 Spices 50 Dishes.  The title had me intrigued.  One of the most intimidating things about Indian food are the number of spices required – some of which demand a trip to the Indian market or your favorite online purveyor.  But the premise of this book was brilliant.  As long as you had the 5 spices – coriander seeds, cumin, mustard seeds, ground cayenne, and turmeric – you were in business.  I ordered my copy on Amazon after I read the many great reviews.

When the book arrived, I excitedly flipped through trying to pick the first dish I would try.  The recipe for Lamb Meatballs in a Spicy Malabari Curry immediately caught my eye.  I’ve only had food from Kerala, the Indian state at the Southern tip of the subcontinent, a handful of times but every time I do I am astounded by the flavors.  There is liberal use of coconut, curry leaves, and mustard seeds plus it also showcases a lot of seafood.

This particular recipe is from the Malabar coast in Kerala, and the cookbook author, Ruta Kahate, says that is ideal served with rice or bread.  It also ages beautifully – always a plus in this house where we encourage leftovers!   Plus I had been wanting to add a meatball curry to my Indian repertoire for a while.  So it was basically no contest.  I went shopping for the ground lamb the next day.

When I first read through the recipe I had some reservations.  First off, there are only five ingredients listed for the meatballs – would the flavor be complex I wondered?  And the meatballs are not cooked before being dropped into the curry sauce – you put the raw lamb spheres directly into the gravy.  I worried that they would fall apart.  Luckily my fears were totally unfounded.  The meatballs were exquisite and held together beautifully but were still meltingly tender.   The coconut curry was creamy from the coconut milk but had gentle heat and spice as well.  The step of toasting the cumin and coriander seeds for the curry before you use them adds a much richer note to this dish.  The whole family (including my two people under 5) gobbled this up and asked for seconds.

As far as I am concerned the book is worth the price just for this mouth watering recipe.  But I am also happy to report that there are many other enticing dishes that I am dying to try… give this one a whirl and if you enjoy it as much as we did you might also be a convert for 5 Spices, 50 Dishes.




  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot (about 1 shallot)
  • 2 medium serrano chilies (I just used one)
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger (about a 2 inch peice – a microplane is great for this)
  • 3/4 tsp salt


  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 tbl vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 4 shallots halved and thinly slices (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbl minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/3 cup tomato puree (from one small tomato)
  • One 14 oz can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 medium seranno chilies, cut in half lengthwise and seeded (again I only used one)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbl minced cilantro leaves
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1. Combine all the meatball ingredients together in medium bowl.  Mix gently with your hands just until everything is combined.

2.  With your hands, form 20 golf ball sized meatballs.  Set aside.

3.  In a dry skillet, roast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat until they are lightly browned and fragrant.  Cool and grind them together.  I used a mortar and pestle but a spice grinder would also work beautifully.

4.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer add the mustard seeds.  The mustard seeds will pop (not unlike popcorn) so make sure you partially cover the pan with a lid or splatter screen.

5.  When the seeds stop popping, add the shallots, garlic and ginger and stir constantly over medium heat until the shallots turn golden brown.  This should take about 5-7 minutes.

6.  When the shallots are golden, add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, and tomato puree.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  The tomato mixture will become quite dry.

7.  Add the coconut milk, water, chilies, and salt and bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and gently slip in the meatballs.

8.  Simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked – about 8-10 minutes.  I noticed that a layer of fat rose to the top of my curry.  I skimmed some of this off to keep the curry light.

9.  Add the cilantro and vinegar and shake the pan so you don’t break the meatballs.  Simmer for an additional minute.  Serve hot.

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