GOURMET FILES Vasundhara Chauhan

Hassle-free koftas

Meat balls Photo: Shivaji Rao  

When I was a child in my parents’ home, chicken was eaten, but rarely. Dinner always had mutton. If the menu was Indian, it would be a mutton curry or keema, minced mutton. Keema cooked with diced potatoes, cauliflower florets, French beans, even tinda, the round or apple gourd… their favourite, though, was keema matar, minced mutton with green peas, and I hated it. The only way I enjoy keema is in a kabab or a kofta. In this household too I’m in a minority of one and though they also like the variations, the work involved in both is daunting. Boil the mince, cook it dry, crush it to a paste — on a stone sil-batta — shape it into balls for koftas, and into patties for kababs, fry them, throw away the oil full of nasty trans fats, make a separate curry for koftas, and, finally, simmer the koftas.

But I was taught a hassle-free technique: a western recipe by my mother, and a Kashmiri one by my cousin Neetu. The basic principle is the same: mixing aromatics and seasoning with finely ground meat and shaping it into balls that are then plunged into high heat. Contrary to my fears, they immediately coalesce into neat, smooth shapes. No split seams, no scattering into fragments, no mess. No frying, no splattering, no burns, no waste, no kashtam.

I’ve adapted it for soup. Salt, pepper, chopped coriander and sometimes green chillies are mixed thoroughly with the meat, shaped into tiny balls, and dropped into a pot of boiling water. The mince balls quickly change colour and rise to the top of the water, and they’re done. Then the water is used as stock for a clear soup into which we chop and add whatever seasonal vegetables are handy, some appropriate seasoning like soya sauce or lime juice, and sometimes a handful of rice or noodles.

The kofta curry is smooth and deep red, rich with layers of spices, and the sauce in which it is cooked so intensely flavoured that it’s best eaten with no distracting interference, just plain steamed white rice. The meatballs are an easy dish to serve when entertaining: done-ahead, refrigerated, reheated and served — accompanied with crisp green salad.


Serves 4 to 6


500g mutton keema


1/2 tsp mustard oil

1 tbsp yoghurt

2 green cardamoms, 2 cloves, 1 small stick cinnamon all ground together


3 tbsp mustard oil

4 green cardamoms

4 cloves

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

2 tbsp tomato purée

1 cup yoghurt

Few drops asafoetida (hing) solution

1 tsp red Kashmiri chilli powder

1 tsp saunf (fennel) powder

1/4 tsp sonth (dried ginger) powder

Mix keema with salt, oil, yoghurt and ground spices. Shape into torpedo-like koftas and put aside on a metal thali.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat mustard oil and sauté whole spices. After about a minute, add tomato purée and cook until moisture evaporates. Beat yoghurt until smooth and add to pan. Add hing and red chilli powder and cook until oil appears at the edges. Add hot water — enough to immerse the koftas, about two cups. Bring to a boil. Slide in the uncooked koftas, one at a time, and cook on high heat until boiling. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and koftas and masala paste are lightly browned.

Take care to stir with a metal spatula and prevent scorching, but allow browning.

Meanwhile, boil about 1-2 cups of water and pour in when koftas and masala are a nice reddish brown. Stir in the saunf and sonth and simmer until koftas are cooked through.


Makes 40+

1 egg

1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

2 tsp salt

2 tsp coarsely ground pepper

1 cup grated cheddar cheese (or 1 tbsp vegetable oil)

500g ground mutton mince

Preheat oven to 180°C. Beat together egg and 1/2 cup water. Stir in breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and cheese (or oil). Add mince and mix with hands. Shape into 1-inch balls and place in shallow, lightly greased baking pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Take carefully out of oven and stir in hot sauce, mixing well to coat.

Hot Chilli Sauce

Makes 2 cups

6-8 hot green chillies, seeded

1 cup stuffed green olives

1 cup vegetable oil, preferably peanut or sesame

1/2 tsp hot chilli sauce (like Tabasco)

1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Serve as dip or coating sauce for meatballs.


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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 12:25:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Vasundhara_Chauhan/gourmet-files-hasslefree-koftas/article7209893.ece

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