An irresistible combination of lamb meatballs and curry, cooked in a creamy sauce. This Dairy-free, Gluten-free and Paleo recipe does not use breadcrumbs.
Korma is a mildly-spiced curry, in which chopped vegetables or meats are braised in a sauce thickened by yoghurt or cream. It is an aromatic and warming dish, rather than a hot and piquant one. Lamb works particularly well with aromatic spices, which is why Middle Eastern and Indian cooking commonly pair it with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and star anise.
Meatballs are found in various forms across Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East and into Asia. They are made by mixing ground meat with herbs and seasoning, then shaping into balls and cooking. The cooking method for meatballs differs according to whether the meatballs are served dry or dressed in a sauce. Meatballs that are served dry and undressed, such as Lebanese Lamb Kofta Skewers, are cooked using a direct heat method, such as a grill, frying pan or baking in the oven. Meatballs that are served in a sauce, such as Italian Meatballs, are usually cooked in the same pan as the sauce. This is mutually beneficial to both parts of the dish, as the meatballs are tender and juicy thanks to the gentle poaching method of cooking, while the flavour of the sauce is enhanced by the meat juices. In order to achieve a tasty caramelised crust, the meatballs should be quickly browned in a frying pan before being poached.
My recipe involves making a curry paste, adding liquid, and then poaching lamb meatballs in this sauce. Ground lamb has a high fat content, which will render out during cooking. If too much fat is lost, the finished meatballs will become dry and crumbly, and the cooking sauce will be unpleasantly greasy. You can prevent this by working the raw mixture for a few minutes when you make the meatballs, using your hands to knead the mixture. This creates an emulsion by suspending the fat particles in the meat proteins. When the fat particles are surrounded by protein they will hold together, and the fat will remain inside the meatball.
Tips & Tricks
- Soak the cashew nuts – this softens and saturates the nuts so that they blend to a creamy texture. Do not soak for more than 16 hours, as they start to develop a sour taste
- Chop kofta ingredients very finely – coarse ingredients result in crumbly kofta that fall apart
- Mix by hand – food processors are too aggressive and ruin the texture of ground meat
- Work the raw mixture – this develops the meat proteins so that the kofta hold together better and retain the fat
- After forming kofta, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes – this firms up the texture
- When frying, heat the pan to sizzling point – this creates an instant seal when the meat is added, preventing it from sticking and keeping the moisture locked in
- Do not overcrowd the pan – this will cause the kofta to stew in their own juices rather than brown
- Do not turn for the first minute, until the cooking side has formed a seal – otherwise the bottom will stick to the pan and break apart
- Fry the curry paste – this releases the flavour compounds, allowing the essential oils from the spices to dissolve into the cooking oil (they are not water soluble)
- Add liquid once the oil starts to separate – this means that all the moisture has evaporated, so the spices will quickly start to burn
for the paste:
- 1/2 cup (75g) cashew nuts
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 onion (130g), peeled and quartered
- thumb-sized piece of root ginger (20g), peeled
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 tablespoons (40g) tomato puree
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
- 5 tablespoons (75ml) olive oil / neutral-tasting oil
for the kofta:
- 750g minced lamb
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil (I used coconut oil)
- 1/2 onion (65g), peeled and very finely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- half a thumb-sized piece of root ginger (10g), peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (about 1/2 small lemon)
for the curry:
- 1 1/2 onions (195g), peeled and finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 200ml water
- 200g (1/2 can) tinned chopped tomatoes
- a handful of flaked almonds, toasted in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat, until lightly browned
- Make the curry paste. You can make the paste ahead, as it will keep for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. To store, spoon into a jam jar, press down to eliminate air bubbles, and then pour over a layer of neutral-tasting oil.
- Cover the cashew nuts in warm water and leave to soak for at least 45 minutes, and no more than 16 hours.
- Break open the cardamom pods by crushing with the broad side of a heavy knife. Shake out the seeds and discard the husks.
- Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the whole spices (cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black peppercorns) and dry fry for 1 – 2 minutes, or until they release a fragrant aroma. Tip into a spice grinder and grind until finely ground (if you do not have a spice grinder, then use a pestle and mortar or the small bowl of a food processor). Set aside.
- Once the cashew nuts have soaked for 45 minutes, drain and tip into the small bowl of a food processor. Blitz until smooth. If the mixture needs loosening, add a bit of the oil. Add the aromatics (onion, ginger, garlic and tomato puree), and blitz again until smooth. Tip in the toasted spices, the ground spices (turmeric, garam masala, salt and chilli powder), and the oil. Blitz to a smooth paste.
- Prepare the kofta. Heat 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and fry for about 4 minutes, until translucent but not brown. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for another minute, stirring constantly. Scrape into a mixing bowl and stir in the salt, black pepper and lemon juice.
- Use your hands to crumble in the mince. Still using your hands, break up the meat and work the seasoning into the mince. Keep kneading the mixture for a few minutes, until it holds together well.
- Shape the mixture into small balls by rolling between the palms of your hands. If they are too crumbly, then work the mixture some more. The mixture should make around 24 small balls. Place the balls on a tray, and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to firm up.
- Brown the kofta. Heat 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat (you can use the same pan in which you sauteed the onion). When a few drops of water sizzle and evaporate upon contact with the pan, add the kofta. Sear the kofta in 3-4 batches until browned all over with a caramelised crust – about 4 minutes a batch. Add more cooking oil if necessary. Do not overcrowd the pan, and do not turn during the first minute of frying. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.
- Fry the onion & paste. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the onion and salt. Cook until the onion is lightly browned, stirring occasionally – about 8 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low. Scrape in the curry paste and stir until blended. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the water if it is dry and sticking to the bottom. Cook until the oil starts to separate, stirring frequently – about 3-5 minutes (it is important not to rush this stage, as it develops flavour and stops the spices from tasting raw).
- Cook the kofta in the sauce. Add the water and tinned tomatoes, stir until blended, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then gently transfer the kofta to the sauce. The kofta should be part-submerged in liquid, not fully covered. More liquid will be released from the kofta during cooking, so do not top up with more liquid. Cover with a lid, and cook for 20 minutes. Do not stir the sauce or turn the kofta, as this may cause them to break apart.
- If, at the end of cooking, the sauce is too thin, then reduce it (a thin sauce will not cling to the kofta, and will simply run off to pool at the bottom of the plate). Gently remove the kofta from the pan using a slotted spoon, and keep warm by covering in tin foil. Turn the heat up to high and boil rapidly to reduce the cooking liquid to a thick sauce, stirring constantly – about 5-10 minutes.
- Transfer the kofta to a serving dish and spoon over the sauce. Sprinkle over the toasted flaked almonds.