Make it meatballs


By Jan Bilton

My mother served her favourite meatballs on nearly every festive occasion — birthdays, weddings, anniversary parties — but most often as mini nibbles with pre-dinner drinks. World-famous amongst friends and family, they were a unique combo of Italian and American influences.

Italian meatballs are considerably smaller than those enjoyed in New Zealand. Known in Italy as polpettes (or if marble-sized, polpettines), they are usually served as a main — without sauce — or in a light soup. Their origins can be traced back to the Roman Empire when these delights were prepared from squid or chicken. Considered simple peasant food, they are not generally served in restaurants today.

However, the most likely precursor of the meatball is thought to be the Persian kofta — a dish of minced chicken, pork, lamb or beef mixed with rice or mashed lentils. They were rolled into orange-sized balls and glazed with egg yolk and saffron. These days they are usually cigar-shaped and often served on skewers.


Indian flavours permeate this dish.

Meatballs: 500g minced chicken

Saag chicken meatballs

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, curry powder

pinch cayenne, optional

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon canola oil

Sauce: 300g fresh spinach

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons ghee or canola oil

2cm knob root ginger, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon each: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds, chopped chilli

3/4 cup each: water, plain yoghurt

Combine the chicken, garlic, spring onions and spices. Roll into balls. Brown lightly in the oil.

To make the sauce, wash and chop the spinach. Steam or microwave until limp. Cool a little then squeeze dry and chop again.

Sauté the onion in the ghee or oil in a medium frying pan, until softened. Add the ginger and spices. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and water and heat through. Place in a blender or food processor and mix until smooth.

Return to the frying pan and add the meatballs. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes or until cooked. Stir in the yoghurt and heat through. Serves 4.

  • Jan Bilton is an award-winning, professional food writer. For more of her recipes visit her website here.

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