Thai curry meatballs
Thai curry meatballs are rich, creamy, and packed with deep Thai flavors! Dairy-free, gluten-free, and low-carb meatballs are stuffed with herbs, baked to tender perfection, and covered in a mild coconut curry sauce. It’s a real crowd-pleaser!
This super easy Thai-inspired meatball curry comes together fast using simple, accessible ingredients. You can use whatever type of ground meat you prefer. Serve alongside these Chiang Mai noodles (khao soi gai) for a super authentic Thai feast!
These Thai coconut red curry meatballs are made with pantry staples and super accessible ingredients—no trips to a specialty Asian store are required! If you can’t find an ingredient listed here, I’ve provided easy substitutions as well. Here’s what you need to get started:
- Cilantro: I use fresh cilantro leaves and stems. In addition to adding to the paste for the meatballs, reserve some cilantro to use as a garnish for serving.
- Shallots: You can also use sweet onion.
- Carrots: Roughly dice them before adding to the food processor to make the paste.
- Thai basil leaves: Gives a nice aromatic, Thai flavor. If using Italian basil, increase the quantity for a stronger flavor.
- Ginger root: Roughly chop before adding to the food processor to make the paste.
- Fish sauce: Adds an authentic depth of flavor to the meatball seasoning paste as well as the sauce.
- Coconut cream: Be sure to use full fat cream for a rich and creamy flavor and texture. Used in the meatball seasoning paste as well as the red curry sauce.
- Ground meat: Ground pork, lamb, or beef work well in this recipe due to their higher fat content. See substitution notes below for making chicken or curried turkey meatballs.
- Red curry paste: I use store-bought for ease. Thai Kitchen brand has ingredients of red chili pepper, garlic, lemongrass, salt, shallot, coriander root, and kaffir lime peel.
- Tomato paste: Adds some acidity and helps to thicken the sauce.
- Garam masala powder
- Coarse sea salt
- Cumin powder
- Coriander powder
- Lime juice: Fresh lime juice is used as a garnish to brighten the dish before serving.
- A 4-cup food processor
- One large baking sheet pan
- A medium-large saucepan
- A rubber spatula or wooden spoon to stir
Substitutions and variations
- Other types of ground meat: For Thai chicken meatballs or Thai turkey meatballs, use a combination of 50 dark meat and 50 white meat. The higher fat content will keep them moist.
- Store-bought curry paste: Mae Ploy brand is another popular choice, but it’s a bit too salty and spicy for my taste. Start with half the quantity and adjust to taste.
- Thai herbs: If you can find them, fresh lemongrass, galangal (Thai ginger), garlic cloves, kaffir lime leaves, and shrimp paste would add authentic Thai flavor to these curried meatballs.
- Spicy meatballs: For a spicy version, incorporate Thai chili peppers, a touch of red pepper flakes, or seeded Fresno/serrano red chilies to the meatball curry seasoning paste. Or serve with Thai chili sauce (Nam Jim Jaew) on the side.
How to make Thai curry meatballs
In this Thai meatball curry recipe, we begin by making a seasoning paste to mix into the ground meat for the meatballs. Then we make a finger-licking sauce to pour over the juicy meatballs, garnish, and devour! Here are the simple instructions for this gluten-free and Paleo recipe for meatball curry.
- Make the seasoning paste: In a small food processor, blend the cilantro, shallot, carrot, basil, ginger, fish sauce, cumin, and coconut cream until a paste forms. Be sure not to over-mix or it will become watery.
- Mix the paste into the ground meat: Transfer the herb mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground meat and use your hands to combine them well.
- Form the meatballs: Shape the ground meat mixture into 20 meatballs, roughly the size of golf balls. Place the meatballs on a parchment-lined sheet pan with space between them.
- Bake the meatballs: Bake on the middle rack, flipping the meatballs halfway through cooking. Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and remove while they are still moist and juicy.
- Make the coconut curry sauce: While the meatballs are in the oven, add the sauce ingredients to a large skillet or saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sauce thickens to soup consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.
- Coat the meatballs: Add the meatballs to the saucepan and gently toss them in the sauce to coat. Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce over low heat for 3 minutes, stirring gently.
- Garnish and serve: Transfer the meatballs to a serving dish. Drizzle with lime juice to taste and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves. Serve warm.
Tips for juicy and tender baked meatballs
- Opt for a Higher Fat Ratio: If you’re using lean ground chicken or ground turkey, aim for a 50-50 mix of light and dark meat. The extra fat helps keep the meatballs juicy.
- Incorporate Fresh Herbs and Veggies: Add finely minced herbs and vegetables, like carrots and zucchini, to your meatballs. These ingredients bring in moisture and texture, making the meat less dense.
- Avoid Over-Packing: Shape your meatballs to be about the same size for even baking, but don’t pack them too tightly. They should hold together without being squeezed hard – this ensures they remain tender.
- Use Breadcrumbs or Flour if Needed: Ground poultry tends to have more moisture. If your mixture feels too wet, add a little almond flour or panko breadcrumbs for absorption.
- Adjust Baking Time and Temperature: Remember, ovens can differ. Convection ovens bake faster than conventional ones. Start with a lower temperature and the minimum baking time, then adjust as needed.
How to make ahead, store, and reheat
Thai curry with meatballs is a beautiful and delicious party dish or protein option for a family meal. You can prepare the seasoning paste and form the meatballs ahead of time for ease.
- Make ahead: To prep in advance, you can shape and bake the meatballs ahead. Let them cool and store in the fridge in an airtight container. When you are ready to serve, make the sauce, add the meatballs to the sauce, and slow simmer until the meatballs are warm through in the center.
- Storage: Let them cool and store in the fridge in an airtight container. Pack the meatballs and the sauce together to help keep the meatballs moist. They’re good for 3-4 days in the fridge.
- Reheat: Simmer the meatballs and the sauce until the meatballs are warm through in the center. Add a few tablespoons of stock to thin the sauce until desired consistency.
What to serve with Thai meatballs
This rich and creamy curry meatball dish is perfect when served over rice or noodles with nutritious veggies on the side. Or try cauliflower rice for low-carb! For a dinner party, serve family-style alongside your favorite Thai dishes. Here are some of my top pairing options:
- Rice or noodles: Keep it simple with this air fryer rice made with Jasmine rice. For low-carb, try this Thai shirataki chicken fried rice, cucumber noodles with Thai peanut sauce, or this pad woon sen recipe using kelp noodles.
- Thai side dishes: For veg, try this Vegetarian Whole30 curry, Thai mushroom salad, or Thai Brussel sprouts stir fry. For added protein, go with this Thai beef salad (Nam Tok Neua).
- Opt for fattier meat: When using ground poultry like chicken or turkey, a 50:50 ratio of white to dark meat ensures juicier meatballs. Ground beef, pork, or lamb work well.
- Finely Chop Herbs and Veggies: Adding ingredients like cilantro and carrots? Make sure they’re finely minced for even distribution and moisture.
- Coconut Milk Selection: Use canned full-fat coconut milk or coconut cream for the best results. Brands like Whole Foods 365, Arroy-D, and Native Forest are excellent choices. Avoid low-fat versions as they result in a less creamy and flavorful sauce.
- Choosing the Right Fish Sauce: Opt for a high-quality fish sauce for authentic flavor. Thai fish sauce (like Megachef brand) or Vietnamese Red Boat fish sauce are recommended. A small bottle can last a long time. Remember to store it in the refrigerator once opened.
- Selecting Curry Paste: Be mindful that not all store-bought curry pastes are created equal. They can vary in spice levels and saltiness. Generally, Thai curry paste includes a blend of Thai chilies, galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, lime peel, shallot, and cilantro. Choose one that suits your taste preferences.
- Be Conservative with Breadcrumbs or Flour: If your meat mixture is too wet, add just enough breadcrumbs or flour to help it bind, without making it too dense.
- Evenly Size Your Meatballs: For consistent cooking, shape all meatballs to similar sizes.
- Oil Your Hands for Easy Shaping: A bit of olive oil on your hands can prevent sticking and make forming meatballs smoother.
- Adjust Oven Settings as Needed: Remember that cooking times may vary depending on your oven type. Convection ovens typically cook faster.
- Cook Sauce to Tomato Soup Consistency: For the perfect sauce texture, simmer until it’s as thick as tomato soup.
Thai meatballs are made with ground meat, infused with Thai fresh herbs and seasonings like cilantro, Thai basil, galangal (Thai ginger), fish sauce, shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaves, and traditional spices for an authentic flavor profile.
Thai curry sauce typically contains coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, bird’s eye chilies, and spices like coriander and garam masala, creating a rich, flavorful, and aromatic base.
Meatballs may fall apart if the moisture content is too high. Achieving the right balance of moisture, not too dry or wet, is crucial for proper formation.
Yes, you can use various meats like chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or lamb. Each type offers a unique flavor and texture and flavor to the meatballs.
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Thai curry meatballs recipe
For the Thai meatballs:
Red Curry Sauce:
- Squeeze Lime juice, to taste
- Garnish Fresh cilantro , chopped
- Preheat the oven to 420F.
- In a small food processor, blend cilantro, shallot, carrot, basil, and ginger until they are finely chopped into fine bits. Then add the fish sauce, salt, cumin, and coconut cream. Pulse a few more times to incorporate well. Be careful not to over mix the paste or it might turn watery.
- Transfer the herb mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground meat and use you hands to combine them well.
- Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Shape the ground meat mixture into 20 meatballs, roughly the size of golf balls. Place the meatballs on top of the parchment with some space between them.
- Bake at middle rack for 15 minutes then remove the sheet pan and carefully flip the meatballs and bake 10 minutes further. The meatballs should be cooked through with moist and not drying.
- While the meatballs are in the oven, make the sauce. In a medium to large size sauce pot, add the ingredients from coconut milk to garam marsala. Stir together with a wooden spoon. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat. Continue simmering, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens to the consistency of tomato soup, about 10 minutes. Be sure to stir the sauce from the bottom to prevent it from burning. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings if desired, adding more salt, tomato paste, or curry paste for more flavor.
- Once the meatballs are done, transfer them from the baking sheet to the saucepan. Gently toss the meatballs in the sauce to coat. Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce over low heat for 3 minutes, stirring gently. Then transfer the sauced meatballs and the sauce to a large casserole dish for serving.
- Drizzle with lime juice to taste and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves. Serve warm.
- You can also use ground chicken or ground turkey, ideally with a 50% breast and 50% thigh (dark meat) mix. Generally, ground poultry has less fat and a higher moisture content than red meat, making it harder to bind and form into meatballs. Start with 1 tablespoon of gluten-free flour, almond flour, cassava flour, potato flour, or gluten-free panko breadcrumbs to absorb excess moisture. Sprinkle in more, if needed, to help with the binding process.
- To keep the meatballs moist, use a mix of dark and white meat (50:50 ratio) when using ground poultry.
- Form the meatballs into similar sizes to ensure they bake evenly at the same time and temperature.
- Lightly greasing your hands with some olive oil will make it easier to form meatballs without them sticking to your hands.
- To make this dish in advance, shape and bake the meatballs ahead of time. Let them cool, then store them in the fridge in an airtight container. To serve, prepare the sauce and add the meatballs, allowing them to slow simmer until they are warm through to the center. If the sauce is too thick, add a small dash of coconut milk or chicken stock until you reach the desired consistency.
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