Chicken Tikka Masala Meatballs

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.

A plate topped with white rice and three chicken tikka masala meatballs with a fork on the side.

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

A plate topped with white rice and three chicken tikka masala meatballs with a fork on the side.
I’m on a mission to transform pantry staples into their 2.0 selves and, in turn, inspire you to cook the classics with surprisingly tasty twists.
Kelly Senyei

Prep 30 mins
Cook 30 mins
Total 1 hr
4 servings
767 kcal
5 / 2 votes
Print RecipeBuy the The Secret Ingredient Cookbook cookbook

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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.
Print RecipeBuy the The Secret Ingredient Cookbook cookbook

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*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. 

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 767kcal (38%)Carbohydrates: 26g (9%)Protein: 26g (52%)Fat: 64g (98%)Saturated Fat: 33g (206%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 271mg (90%)Sodium: 1677mg (73%)Potassium: 1324mg (38%)Fiber: 5g (21%)Sugar: 13g (14%)Vitamin A: 3031IU (61%)Vitamin C: 15mg (18%)Calcium: 157mg (16%)Iron: 4mg (22%)

Recipe Testers' Reviews

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.

A plate topped with white rice and three chicken tikka masala meatballs, garnished with cilantro.

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.

Originally published June 09, 2021


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  1. 5 stars
    So good! The meatballs were so tender and not dry AT ALL, which I worried about with them being chicken. The sauce is SO GOOD (I pureed it with an immersion blender) and there was lots of it, so I served the meatballs over rice plus naan on the side for dipping. I will will definitely make this again. My whole family (including picky kids) enjoyed it!

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