Thai Curry Meatballs: The Perfect Party Snack

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on January 3, 2013

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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