Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Chicken Meatballs with Chilli-Cumin Sauce, Yoghurt and Cucumber

Heat induced lethargy and a stretch of particularly unimaginative days kept me from blogging. What used to normally keep me from posting when I had my previous blogs were not ever having passable shots for my recipes. At this stage, I find that I have the shots, but not the words. The set ups might be repetitive - but, oh well! One tends to develop a sort of inertia in everything, whether it is just being plain inactive, going at the same momentum or as in this case, making do with the same setting over and over again. I say this because a few more posts will have this blue board and wooden plank featured. After which I hope both will disintegrate by themselves or else there is a chance I will use them again.
While we are talking photography, this post is a painful reminder of how strenuous shooting a recipe can become, or rather how one can manage to transform photographing a seemingly uncomplicated (to shoot) recipe into a tiresome job. I had cooked and shot these meatballs a week ago. Despite feeling that something or the other was not working, I didn't pause my frantic dance to catch the fading sun. However, when I opened them for editing, it was only to find that the cucumber slices looked very odd the way they were placed. That is to say, odder than what you see here! I had to trash the whole set (except for the fourth shot in this post, which is a lone survivor from the first attempt.) and decided to re shoot - all for the sake of a few scattered pieces of cucumber. You might think this is taking it to extreme especially since I shoot with a toy camera. But I do re shoot often - in fact more often than I would care to admit.

If you fell down yesterday,
stand up today.
H.G. Wells, The Anatomy of Frustration

With that, we will skip to matters more pressing. For all its long list of ingredients and directions, this recipe is actually easy. You can make the Chilli-Cumin Sauce at least two days ahead. I have tried making the meat balls a day ahead (reheated when needed) and that is fine too. All that will remain is just a few minutes of work with the cucumbers, yoghurt and garnish.

Chicken Meatballs with Chilli-Cumin Sauce, Yoghurt and Cucumber

Adapted from Seamus Mullen via Bon Appetit.

The original recipe uses lamb. I opted for chicken as we buy lamb only once in a while. That said, the spices and herbs used in the recipe - cumin, coriander, fennel, sage, oregano and parsley - will go exceedingly well with lamb (especially the first four of the set) - so making it with lamb is a really good option.

I have altered the recipe a bit - the adaptation of meat balls is limited to slightly upping the spices and herbs and adding breadcrumbs to account for the use of chicken mince.

The Chilli-Cumin Sauce is altered much more, the primary change being using dried and crushed Pasilla Chillies (instead of fresh ones) and adding a touch of honey/brown sugar. I have also simplified the process of bringing the sauce together by using alternate ingredients.

I have noted these changes more specifically in the notes as well as how you can proceed with lamb mince (You can, of course, look into the original recipe.)

The recipe makes about 25 meat balls with 1 and a 1/2 tbsp measure.
Serves 4 to 5


  1. Chicken, boneless - 500 gm (Partly frozen works better for mincing without turning the chicken into a paste. But use what you have.)
  2. Onion, finely chopped - A scant 1/2 cup
  3. Garlic cloves, finely chopped - 1 tbsp.
  4. Green Chilli, seeds removed and chopped - 1 (Optional.)
  5. Fresh Parsley, chopped - 1 tbsp. 
  6. Fresh Oregano, chopped - 1 tsp. (or 1/2 teaspoon of dried)
  7. Fresh Sage, chopped - 1 tsp. (or 1/2 teaspoon of dried)
  8. Ground Fennel Seeds - 1/2 tsp. (See Notes.)
  9. Ground Coriander and Cumin Powder - 2 and a 1/2 tsp (I had this already made and so used it. You can alternatively use 1 and a 1/2 tsp. of Ground Coriander and 1 tsp. of Ground Cumin.) 
  10. Breadcrumbs - About 1/2 cup
  11. Egg, beaten - 1
  12. Salt - To Taste.
  13. Olive oil (Or a neutral tasting oil) - To fry
Chilli-Cumin Sauce:
  1. Dried and Crushed Pasilla Chillies - 1 tsp. (The original recipe uses 3 fresh Pasilla Chillies, seeds removed and chopped)
  2. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes - 1 and a 1/2 tsp.
  3. Cumin Seeds - 1 tbsp. (I have a stash of Roasted and Ground Cumin Powder always in the kitchen. So I used a scant tablespoon of that. I have noted how to start from dried cumin seeds in the Directions.)
  4. Red Wine Vinegar/ Sherry Vinegar - 1/4 cup
  5. Sweet Paprika - 1 tbsp. 
  6. Garlic Clove, minced - 1
  7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1/2 cup 
  8. Brown Sugar/Honey - 1 scant tsp. (Optional. Not in the original recipe.)
  9. Salt
Marinated Cucumbers:
  1. English Hothouse Cucumber, sliced into half moons - 2 cups
  2. Lime Juice - 1 tbsp.
  3. Red Pepper Flakes - 1/2 tsp.
  4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1 tbsp.
  5. Salt 
  1. Yoghurt - 1/2 cup
  2. Salt - A pinch (Optional)
  1. Mint Leaves, chopped - 2 to 4 tbsp., depending on how you like it. 
  2. Parsley - A few Leaves.

Place the chicken along with onion, garlic, green chilli, parsley, sage, oregano, coriander, cumin and salt in a grinder and pulse a few times. Open the lid in between and scrape the sides as needed. Do not grind, lest you make a paste out of the mix. It is fine if a few small pieces of chicken remain not minced. All this said, it will be okay even if you accidentally let the grinder run and the mix turns somewhat to a paste.

Once done, add the egg and the bread crumbs to this mixture and mix well. Keep in the refrigerator for half an hour (optional) and make into balls (each with 1 and a 1/2 tbsp. of the mixture.)

Heat up a pan (preferably cast iron) and add 2 tbsp. oil to it. Fry the meat balls in two batches, turning occasionally and adding more oil if needed; until browned on all sides and cooked through. (Take care not to overcook if you had used chicken breasts.) Drain onto paper towels once done.

Chilli-Cumin Sauce:
If you are starting with cumin seeds (rather than roasted cumin powder), you need to roast and grind them first. (Otherwise, skip to the second paragraph.) Heap up a pan and add the cumin seeds. If you are using fresh Pasilla Chillies, add them as well. Dry roast them until the cumin seeds turn fragrant and darker. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool once done. Run this mix through a spice mill (along with the chilli flakes if you like to powder that as well) to finely grind and transfer to a bowl.

Combine everything except the oil and mix well with a fork. Add the oil in a slow drizzle, whisking constantly until incorporated. Transfer to a large bowl.

(You can do this in a blender. First combine everything except oil in the blender until smooth. Add the oil in a slow steady stream with the motor running and blend until combined.)

Marinated Cucumbers:

Combine everything under 'The Marinated Cucumbers' well and keep aside.


If your yoghurt is smooth, and you are not using salt, just set it aside in a bowl. If you are using salt, (or the yoghurt is lumpy) add it to the yoghurt and whisk till smooth.


Transfer the meatballs to the bowl containing Chilli-Cumin Sauce and toss to coat. 

Spoon the yoghurt into bowls. Divide meatballs among bowls, place the dressed cucumber slices and garnish with mint and parsley.
Serve with Quinoa or Flat breads.

  1. I normally have ground fennel at hand and so used that in this recipe. If you don't have it already made, dry roast about three quarters of a teaspoon of fennel seeds and then power them either using a mortar and pestle or a spice mill. 
  2. If you want to try the recipe with lamb mince avoid putting the lamb mince along with onion etc. in the first step. (In fact, you can skip the blender altogether and just mix with your hands if everything is quite finely chopped already.) Also, omit the bread crumbs and add a tablespoon of flour instead. Rest of the process is the same. 
  3. The Chilli-Cumin Sauce is tangy with all that Red Wine Vinegar - but it will not be overpowering when you mix the meatballs into it.
  4. I used dried and crushed Pasilla Chillies for the sauce as I couldn't find fresh ones here. 
  5. The original recipe uses Smoked Sweet Paprika. I didn't have the smoked version and used Sweet Paprika.
  6. Though the recipe contains oregano and sage, these meatballs can be made into a simple curry with coconut milk. (I tried it with half of the lot the first time and it came out well.)

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