How To Make Indian-Inspired Cocktail Meatballs

When filmmaker and cookbook author Sri Rao stopped by The Takeout's office recently, he introduced to us the Indian cooking he grew up on—simple, unfussy, using household ingredients found at most American supermarkets. Watch the video here to see Rao demonstrate his excellent version of beef meatballs, ideal for your next party gathering.

Cocktail Kofta

Makes about 25 meatballs. Recipe from Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films.

  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic paste or minced garlic
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. ginger paste or minced ginger
  • 1/2 Tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. Indian red chili powder or cayenne, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 lb. ground beef (85 percent lean)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (2 percent)
  • 1/4 cup cashews, ground to a powder
  • Buttery naan, for serving
  • In a sauté pan, heat one tablespoon of the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaf and allow it to begin infusing the oil for 15 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, five to seven minutes, reducing the heat if necessary.


    Add the garlic and ginger pastes and cook, stirring, for one to two minutes. Then add 1/2 tablespoon of the salt, the coriander, 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili powder, the cinnamon, cloves, and turmeric and allow the spices to bloom for about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat while you prepare the meatballs.

    In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, cilantro, two tablespoons of the onion mixture, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder. Use your hands to combine the ingredients well.

    Using a melon baller or mini ice cream scoop, roll the mixture int small meatballs and place on a baking sheet or platter. Put the platter in the refrigerator while you make the sauce.


    Return the sauté pan with the onion mixtures to the stove over medium heat. Whisk in the milk, yogurt, and ground cashews. Decrease the heat, cover, and allow the sauce to simmer gently while you brown the meatballs. Feel free to add more milk if the sauce gets too thick.

    In a second large sauté pan, heat the remaining one tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Brown a batch of the meatballs for three minutes on the first side, then flip and brown for another three minutes on the other side. As the meatballs are done browning, drop them into the sauce and continue with the next batch.

    Turn the meatballs gently to coat with the sauce. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with small pieces of warm, buttered naan.