Cooking | Magazine

Recipes: Three surprising ways to make meatballs

Look beyond the Italian-American standard, to Turkey, India, and Vietnam.

Cashew-Coconut Meatballs with Creamy Spiced Tomato Sauce
Connie Miller of CB Creatives
Cashew-coconut meatballs with creamy spiced tomato sauce.

These recipes are part of a partnership between Christopher Kimball and the cooks at Milk Street and the Globe Magazine’s Cooking column.

Look around the world and it becomes obvious that there’s a lot more to meatballs than the red-sauced Italian-American version. In Turkey, cooks pan-fry meatballs spiced with cumin, cinnamon, and oregano until they develop a dark, brown crust, then pair them with a cooling yogurt-lime sauce. Vietnamese meatballs — cilantro-spiked nuggets of juicy ground pork — come wrapped in crisp lettuce and with a bright mix of lime and fish sauce for dipping. And roasted cashews and coconut add richness and a tropical aroma to ground beef for our take on Indian meatballs.

Cashew-Coconut Meatballs with Creamy Spiced Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 servings

This take on Indian kofta includes roasted cashews and coconut, both of which add richness and texture to the dish. The meatballs can be shaped up to an hour in advance and refrigerated until ready to cook. Steamed basmati rice or warmed flatbread is an ideal accompaniment.

Don’t skip the step of toasting the shredded coconut — it brings out its nuttiness and subtle sweetness.


½  cup unsweetened shredded coconut

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

5 large garlic cloves, minced

1¼ cups unsalted roasted cashews


2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro, divided

1 pound 85-percent lean ground beef

¾ cup coconut milk, divided

1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, beaten

2 teaspoons garam masala, divided


Kosher salt and ground black pepper

14½ -ounce can crushed tomatoes

In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, toast the coconut, stirring frequently, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set it aside.

In the same skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly golden, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer to a small plate, spreading it in an even layer. Refrigerate until slightly cooled, about 5 minutes. Set the skillet aside.

In a food processor, pulse the cashews until finely ground, about 10 pulses. Set aside ¼ cup. To the remaining cashews, add 1½ cups of the cilantro and process until finely chopped, about 30 seconds. Transfer to the bowl with the toasted coconut, then add ‚ cup of the cooked onion mixture, the beef, ¼ cup coconut milk, the eggs, 1 teaspoon of the garam masala, 2 teaspoons of salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Mix well, then shape into 16 2-inch meatballs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

In the same skillet over medium, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs in a single layer and cook until browned on the bottoms, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining onion mixture, the remaining ½ cup coconut milk, the remaining 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and the tomatoes. Stir gently, loosening the meatballs from the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce to medium-low, and cook at a gentle simmer until cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes.

Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the remaining ½  cup cilantro and the reserved cashews.

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Turkish Meatballs with Lime-Yogurt Sauce

Makes 6 servings

Turkish Meatballs with Lime-Yogurt Sauce
Connie Miller of CB Creatives
Turkish meatballs with lime-yogurt sauce.

Heat the spices, shallots, and garlic in oil in the microwave to draw out their flavors. Don’t use stale bread — fresh pita adds light texture and fresh flavor that stale bread couldn’t. Likewise, use whole-milk plain yogurt, not Greek-style, to get the right consistency in both the meatballs and the sauce.

We love the meatballs stuffed into pita pockets with sliced tomato, cucumber, red onion, and flat-leaf parsley. Tangy yogurt sauce spiked with lime juice and cayenne makes for a bright counterpart.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 medium shallot, grated

1 garlic clove, grated

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½  teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

6-inch pita bread, torn into pieces (2 ounces)

¼ cup whole-milk plain yogurt

1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1½  pound 85-percent lean ground beef

1½  teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Lime-Yogurt Sauce (see accompanying recipe)

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil with the shallot, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and cayenne. Microwave until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then transfer to a blender.

Add the torn pita, yogurt, 3 tablespoons water, and mint to the blender and process until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the beef, salt, and pepper. Use your hands to thoroughly mix. Form 12 balls and transfer them to a plate.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the meatballs and use a metal spatula to press them into ½-inch-thick patties. Cook over medium heat until the meat registers 160 degrees, about 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer the meatballs to a platter, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes. Serve with Lime-Yogurt Sauce.

Lime-Yogurt Sauce

Makes 1½ cups

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

3 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons lime juice

½  teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, tahini, lime juice, salt, and cayenne until smooth.

Vietnamese Meatball Lettuce Wraps

Makes 4 servings

Vietnamese Meatball Lettuce Wraps
Connie Miller of CB Creatives
Vietnamese meatball lettuce wraps.

In Vietnam, meatballs are often skewered and grilled, but for a quick weeknight meal, a skillet does a fine job. You can serve these over steamed rice or rice vermicelli, but we like them with herbs and lettuce leaves for wrapping, along with a lime juice and fish sauce mixture for drizzling.

Don’t be timid when mixing the pork; you want to vigorously stir it to compact it. This creates a pleasantly springy texture in the meatballs.

3 teaspoons grape-seed or other neutral oil, divided

1 pound ground pork

‚ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus sprigs, to serve

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

6 scallions, white and light green parts minced, dark green parts thinly sliced

5 tablespoons fish sauce, divided

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons white sugar, divided

½ cup lime juice

1 or 2 serrano chilies, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded (1 cup)

Lettuce leaves, to serve

Coat a large plate with 1 teaspoon of the oil; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the pork, 3 tablespoons water, cilantro, pepper, minced scallions, 2 tablespoons of the fish sauce, and the 2 teaspoons sugar. Mix vigorously with a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined, 20 to 30 seconds. The mixture will be soft and sticky. With lightly moistened hands, form it into 20 balls and place them on the prepared plate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the lime juice, the 3 remaining tablespoons fish sauce, the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and the chilies until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Line another plate with paper towels. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil until it begins to smoke. Add the meatballs and cook undisturbed until the bottoms are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a spatula, turn each meatball and continue to cook, adjusting the heat as needed and occasionally turning the meatballs, until golden brown all over, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared plate, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, toss the carrots with 2 tablespoons of the lime juice sauce. Serve the meatballs with the carrots, cilantro sprigs, sliced scallions, and lettuce leaves for wrapping. The remaining sauce can be spooned onto the wraps.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to Send comments to