Chicken tikka masala meatballs have a long list of ingredients but you’ve probably got most of them. If not, this is the time to stock up. Tender meatballs, covered in an incredibly tasty tomato sauce, are made for lovers of Indian food but also an easy introduction for kids and those who are wary of spicy foods.
Adapted from Kelly Senyei | The Secret Ingredient Cookbook | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021
Indian cuisine requires a multitude of spices to develop rich, complex flavors, so don’t let this longer ingredient list deter you. However, one ingredient you won’t see on this list? Eggs. I’ve replaced the traditional meatball binder and moisture provider with a much more flavorful alternative: cinnamon applesauce. It does double-duty on the taste and texture fronts. Blending the sauce isn’t essential, but it does lead to a velvety smooth texture.–Kelly Senyei
Chicken Tikka Masala Meatballs
For the meatballs
- Cooking spray
- 1 slice white bread roughly torn
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 pound ground chicken or turkey
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cinnamon applesauce
- 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup (4 oz) diced yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
- 2 cups heavy cream*
- Freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
- Minced fresh cilantro for garnish
- Cooked basmati rice or naan for serving
Make the meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Coat a 13-by 9-inch (33-by 23-cm) baking pan with cooking spray.
- In a small bowl, combine the bread and cream. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, then mash it with a fork.
- In a medium bowl, combine the bread mixture, ground chicken (or turkey), applesauce, tomato paste, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Using your hands, mix just until combined. Scoop out 1 1/2-tablespoon portions of the mixture and roll into balls, then arrange them in a single layer in the baking dish.
☞TESTER TIP: If you’d like to check your meatballs for seasoning before baking, simply pinch off a bit of the mixture and fry until cooked through before sampling.
- Bake the meatballs until they are cooked through and have an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), 20 to 25 minutes. While the meatballs bake, make the sauce.
Make the sauce
- In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring until caramelized, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the water, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the tomato sauce, sugar, garam masala, turmeric, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and salt, and cook for 5 minutes.
- If a smooth sauce is desired, dump the sauce into a blender and blend until puréed then return it to the saucepan. Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Whisk in the cream then simmer the sauce until it has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce, stirring gently to combine.
- Garnish the meatballs with cilantro, then serve with basmati rice or naan. There will be plenty of extra sauce for drizzling over rice or dunking naan.
*Can I substitute anything for the heavy cream in tikka masala?We had a couple of testers bristle at the suggestion of using 2 cups of heavy cream in this recipe. While we’re all for the sumptuousness of heavy cream, you do you. We suggest that you substitute 2 cups of Greek yogurt for the cream if you also feel some hesitation about using a cream with fat over 35%. Regular yogurt will also work but just be aware that the sauce will be quite a bit thinner.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These chicken tikka masala meatballs are a nice gentle meal one can use to get introduced to Indian flavors. Don’t be put off by the added sugar as it offsets the bitterness in the tomato sauce, and I’m sure one could easily use honey as an alternative, as you are really looking to compliment the tomato, and temper its bitterness, not overly sweeten the sauce. The meatballs themselves are nice and tender. You’ll end up with lots of sauce which can be soaked up with the rice (or lentils) you can pair with this dish. It would also be great as an appetizer for a dinner party on its own with some naan bread to dip into the sauce.
This recipe for chicken tikka masala meatballs is one of those that you think will be okay but then knocks your socks off. It was very easy to pull together; I loved the flexibility of using either ground chicken or turkey (since I had turkey in the freezer). Ground turkey is not the easiest to work with but these meatballs were a breeze to roll and I liked the fact that they were baked rather than cooked in a skillet. I thought the use of applesauce in the meatballs was a great idea as it gave them a dash of sweetness. As for the sauce, great classic flavors (and a wonderful aroma as it cooked!) and very easy to pull together. I did mine in a Dutch oven and attempted to use my immersion blender to smooth out the sauce and that didn’t work so well. Probably better off using a blender but that’s a whole extra step…and more cleanup. And it was fine even without being super smooth. The only warning I would include is that, with two cups of heavy cream, this sauce is dangerous. I could just eat the sauce by itself with a spoon. We got six servings and served it originally with grilled cauliflower.
Tikka masala is one of the top dishes requested in my house. So, when I came across this recipe for chicken tikka masala meatballs, I knew I’d have to try it out. It comes together really easily, and I learned a new solution to use as a meatball binder that I’d never heard of – the bread soaked in cream! It worked like a charm. Mind you, the meatballs were definitely more wet than I expected, due to the cinnamon applesauce. However, they held together just enough and baked like a dream. The cinnamon applesauce was also an inspired idea, and I’ll use this trick in so many other applications now that I know it. The result was light, almost fluffy, meatballs—not the dense ones you can sometimes get when using an egg.
The sauce was milder than I typically prefer my tikka masala, so next time I’d probably use 1-1/2 times the spices, including some spicy curry powder. However, the texture and color were terrific—I used my immersion blender right in the pan and it was perfect. Definitely don’t skip the fresh cilantro—it adds so much brightness and contrast in color. Since we try to keep things healthy, I served it with quinoa instead of rice or naan, and some simple steamed broccoli. This one is going in the rotation, you can bet on that.
A fun way to introduce Indian flavors to a younger crowd with tender chicken tikka masala meatballs in a sauce full of depth and flavor. The end result tastes like you have slaved over the stove all day to develop the layered spice flavors. Served over jasmine rice with naan bread is the best way to complete this meal.
This recipe for chicken tikka masala meatballs has a long ingredient list but don’t let that turn you away as it’s not complicated to make. The flavor is great and it reheats beautifully. Loads of warm spices, tender chicken meatballs, and a creamy sauce with a touch of heat are more than enough to win over the short recipe enthusiast.
The total time for this recipe was 1hr 15 min and all of it was hands-on. I think this is 4 good-sized servings over rice. There were some frantic moments as I made the mistake of prepping as I went and there really wasn’t time for that in the mix. I thought I’d have time while the meatballs baked to do the sauce but that’s not really the case. This recipe would flow better, and move a little faster if I’d had everything fully mise-en-place in advance. Not just herbs and onion chopped but all spices in a dish ready to be dumped in instead of measured into the sauce. Onions, garlic, ginger in a bowl together ready to be tossed in all together, etc.
I served this over rice garnished with the cilantro and with naan on the side and it was great with both! I appreciated having the rice to absorb the ample amount of sauce this dish has. This could use a little less sauce or a few more meatballs but overall, a very tasty dish. The meatballs were impossibly tender, so tender that we were both wishing they had a bit more bite to them as they almost disappeared into the sauce and the variance in texture was missing. This dish is a bit of work but I think it’s worth it. The dish reheats very well; savory with great flavor.
Originally published June 9, 2021
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I made an extra recipe of the meatballs, as I always feel like there’s too much sauce leftover. And with 2 cups of cream, better to stretch it out with more meatballs. There was plenty of sauce, for my taste, for double the meatballs. That said, the chicken tikka masala meatballs and sauce were delicious.