Thai Curry Meatballs: The Perfect Party Snack

For those of you keeping score at home, our annual New Year’s party has taken us around the world, from Italy to Sweden to Spain to China to an all-American farmhouse. But even after nine years of hosting and cooking for a progressively bigger, hungrier, and more boisterous crowd, we’ve still got a lot of ground to cover.

So when we collectively decided that Thai food would be the theme of the 2012 New Year’s Eve extravaganza, I knew where to turn for reference: my friend Nancie McDermott’s book, Quick & Easy Thai: 70 Everyday Recipes. I met Nancie a few years ago at the Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier—we bonded over juleps and Southern food, but having spent three years in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer, Nancie’s as comfortable with spicy curry and galangal as she is with grits and custard pie. (And Nancie was generous enough to offer a signed copy of Quick & Easy Thai for one lucky Good. Food. Stories. reader—see below for details on how to win a copy!)

Thai curry meatballs
It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I rarely make real Thai food at home. We all have our lazy comfort food crutches, and even though I crave a bowl of red curry as much as I do spaghetti carbonara, I’ve always relied on the good graces of Wondee Siam to make it for me (a trip to Wondee is also an excuse for catching up with friends, if that softens the blow at all.)

But with Nancie’s book as inspiration, I realized what a dope I’ve been for not doing more Thai cooking at home. Fresh red curry paste, a simple blend of easy-to-find chilies and spices, will be a staple in my refrigerator from here on out, and ingredients like peanuts, ginger, garlic, and cilantro are already in my pantry on the regular. What was stopping me?

The New Year’s menu featured a host of dishes: some were traditional, like pad Thai, spicy cashew and cilantro salad, and chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce that disappeared from the platter in a matter of minutes. Others were modern adaptations, like a salad of shredded raw spinach and minced limes, shallots, coconut, chilies, and ginger in a sweet-salty-spicy dressing that paid tribute to my favorite lettuce-wrapped Thai snack, miang kum.

thai food collage
But there’s always one dish at the party that gets people talking, and this year it was the panaeng curry meatballs. (Panaeng is often spelled panang or penang on Thai and Malaysian menus.) Simmering in a slow cooker all day, unleashing whiffs of their rich coconutty fragrance, I caught a few guests sneaking peeks under the lid before the meatballs were ready for their dinner debut. But who could blame them? Being a good Italian girl, I couldn’t leave well enough alone with a plain seasoned meatball and amped up the aromatics in the meat mixture considerably. Any meatball can be transformed this way with your favorite flavor blend: sub in some garam masala for an Indian meatball, some cinnamon and cayenne for a Lebanese version.

A few of the ingredients in the recipe below, like fresh lime leaves and palm sugar, might be difficult to find if you don’t have access to an Asian supermarket—I stock up on these essentials at Kalustyan’s in Manhattan, but I’ve offered up alternatives, just as Nancie does for all the recipes in her cookbook. Even if you’re not cooking for 100 people, as I was, make the full recipe and freeze the meatballs; chances are you’ll appreciate them later for a quick meal.

Thai meatballs

The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Hector, Commenter #8, for winning the book, and many thanks to all who entered!

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  1. LeeMichael McLean says

    Those pictures make me hungry for more!! Luckily for me I have FOUR of these leftover meatballs in my refrigerator right now! The cashew and cilantro salad was fantastic, but I think my absolute favorite of the night was the delicious corn salad. I hope that recipe makes an appearance here sometime soon.

  2. Gordon Whitman says

    I second LeeMicahel’s corn salad rave. Lots of colorful contenders at the frenetic Furze/McLean 2012 finale (that tofu pad thai a close second) but dreams of that salad scooped with a Casey organic wheat thin will be dancing in my head.

  3. says

    I really would like to master tom yum. It’s been on my list for a few years now, and I keep putting it off for other projects. Now that the Thai restaurant closed near me, I have to drive a full 15 minutes in order to procure a bowl, and then it’s not often I can sneak out and enjoy it there. Generally it comes home with me in a plastic to-go container. That and they don’t offer shrimp (only chicken), which is my preferred protein in a bowl of tom yum.

  4. Bryan Furze says

    I am with Denise. At the end of the day, Pad Thai wins my heart every time. But it was great to compliment with a delicious shrimp noodle dish and those meatballs are great served over some of the 8 salad bowls of rice now filling my fridge. Thank you as always to our Good. Food. Stories. sponsor Casey Barber. I like to think our friends visit us on New Year’s Eve for the company, but I know that at least in part, they are coming for an annual feast of delicious treats!

  5. Guido Ciampi says

    I honestly can’t pick one favorite dish from the NYE Thai feast… I could have eaten the whole plate of chicken skewers if my attention wouldn’t have been distracted by the the spicy cashew and cilantro salad (cilantro.. yum!), the salad with the corn+cherry tomatoes, the guacamole and later on the delicious meatballs! I added some red chili sauce to my Pad Thai to make it even more heavenly! Can’t thank you enough for the great way we all started 2013!

  6. Sarah says

    I would love to be able to do more Thai cooking. I live in Africa, but most of the ingredients are easy to find over there!

  7. Caroline says

    I’d really like to be able to make a good Pad Thai—basic, but something I always crave.

  8. Holly says

    If I were limited to one cuisine for the rest of my life, Thai would win — hands down. With the sweet, savory, spicy, smooth, hot and cold components, it’s hard to beat. I’m also a big meatball lover, so these may have to go on my list of things to try.

    Favorite Thai dish? Probably tom yum (or tom ka) gai.

  9. Monica says

    Favorite Thai dish – pad see ew with tofu! I’m not even vegetarian, but I will GOBBLE DOWN some tofu in this dish.

  10. WINO says

    I really don’t eat much Thai food, but after ready this, I am going to give it a try. It made me hungry for it.

  11. says

    You are so right about Thai food, I never thought it was possible to make at home until I figured out where to get the ingredients (easy for me, living not far from Little Saigon). Then it was just a matter of having a handful of core ingredients on hand and I can make something any day of the week. I buy lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, and freeze what I don’t use immediately.

    Your spread looks gorgeous, I wish I could have been there to dig in!