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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 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.

Thai curry meatballs
Photo: Casey Barber

I met Nancie a few years ago at the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, where 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.

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.

But with Nancie’s book as inspiration, I realized what a dope I’ve been for not doing more Thai cooking at home.

Thai curry meatballs
Photo: Casey Barber

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’s 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 miang kum.

But there’s always one dish at the party that gets people talking, and this year it was the Thai curry meatballs.

Thai curry meatballs
Photo: Casey Barber

As they simmered in a slow cooker all day, unleashing whiffs of rich coconutty fragrance, I caught a few guests sneaking peeks under the lid before the Thai curry meatballs were ready for their 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.

Thai curry meatballs
Photo: Casey Barber

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. Just in case, I’ve offered up alternatives, as Nancie does for all the recipes in her cookbook.

Even if you’re not cooking for 100 people, as I was, you can make a single batch of Thai curry meatballs on their own and freeze them to toss with sauce later for a quick meal.

Just add your favorite vegetables and noodles or rice for an easy weeknight dinner, or drop into a bowl of tom yum soup to make a heartier dish.

Thai curry meatballs
Thai curry meatballs

Thai Curry Meatballs

Yield: about 3 dozen meatballs
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Thai curry meatballs in a rich penang curry sauce are a great party snack or main course with noodles and vegetables. 



  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh or frozen galangal or ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh lemongrass or lemongrass paste
  • 2 teaspoons red curry paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound ground beef

Curry Sauce

  • 1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste or penang curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar or dark brown sugar
  • 6 fresh or frozen wild lime leaves or basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water


Make the meatballs:

  1. If making the meatballs in advance, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Stir the panko, cilantro, garlic, galangal or ginger, lemongrass, curry paste, and egg together in a large mixing bowl until the egg is beaten and the ingredients are well incorporated.
  3. Add the beef and mix well with your hands until combined.
  4. Roll into balls about 1 inch in diameter and place on the prepared baking sheet. You can space them fairly closely, though don't allow them to touch.
  5. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until just cooked through and starting to brown. Remove from the oven and cool for about 5 minutes.
  6. At this point, you can transfer the meatballs to a clean, waxed paper-lined baking sheet and freeze for 1 hour. The frozen meatballs can be stored in a freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months and reheated in the sauce.
  7. If making the meatballs to eat immediately, follow the instructions above for mixing and rolling the meatballs, but you can simmer them directly in the sauce instead of baking them, if desired.

Make the sauce:

  1. Heat the coconut milk in a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the coconut milk thickens slightly and starts to release its fragrance.
  2. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes more, making sure the paste dissolves into the heated coconut milk.
  3. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the coconut milk to a simmer. Add the fish sauce, sugar, and lime leaves, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add the meatballs and cook, stirring, for about 8-10 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through. Add the water as needed if the sauce starts to thicken too much.
  5. Serve as an appetizer or as a noodle or grain bowl with vegetables.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 226Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 583mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 18g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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

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

  10. 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. 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!

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