Serve these spicy, melt-in-your-mouth vegetarian 'meatballs' with cumin rice and a side of simple onion salad, but don't shy from a piece of flatbread as well.






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Average: 3.1 (268 votes)

My family moved to India from Kuwait when I was just out of high school. The move made me an angry-at-the-world seventeen year old. To add to the pain, we moved to very a remote town, where there was little to do. Ammi (mother) was worried and tried to comfort me by cooking my favourite meals. When that failed, she asked me if I would like to teach at the town school, which was looking for a temporary replacement.

It turned out to be a life-changing experience, where I made my first real friends, including a vegetarian girl who forced me to try malai koftas (cheese dumplings), despite my protests about not liking paneer. I still didn’t like them until one day she made the koftas with bottle gourd instead.

Today I make these spicy, melt-in-your-mouth vegetarian 'meatballs' in creamy tomato and coconut sauce with zucchini and serve them with cumin rice and a side of simple onion salad, but it is also great with flatbread.

This recipe makes double the koftas you need; the additional koftas are what the cook gets to munch on while cooking. Halve the recipe otherwise.


  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Indian bay leaf (tej patta) (see note)
  • 1 Indian cinnamon stick (see note)
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (see note)
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric 
  • 1 tsp red chill powder
  • 2 tsp ground coriander 
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 300 g tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 200 ml light coconut milk
  • 125 ml (½ cup) water
  • 1 tsp lime juice 
  • salt, to season


Zucchini koftas

  • 500 g zucchinis
  • 250 g potatoes, peeled, boiled
  • 100 g spring onions, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chickpea flour
  • 2 tbsp white rice flour
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • 2 long green chillies, chopped
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • vegetable oil, to deep-fry

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


For the koftas, grate the zucchinis and mix it with the rest of the kofta ingredients except the oil. The mixture might look a little loose and sticky, but once it hits the oil it will crisp up nicely.

Fill a saucepan one-third full with the vegetable oil and heat over medium heat to 180ºC. Using your hands, shape the kofta mixture into ping pong-size balls. Fry the kofta, in batches, for 3-4 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

For the sauce, heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then add the bay leaf and cinnamon. Once they sizzle, add the ginger-garlic paste, all the ground spices and the tomatoes.

Cook the tomatoes for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes cook down completely and form mushy paste. Remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick, transfer the tomato mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Mix in the coconut milk.

Return the mixture to the pan, add 125 ml (½ cup) water and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the lime juice and mix well. Add the koftas and lightly shake the pan to coat in the sauce. Season with the salt. Cook for 5 minutes or until the sauce is thick. The sauce gets thicker as it sits, so if you plan to serve it later, add a splash of water and reheat before serving.



• Indian bay leaf is wider and longer than laurel bay. It is also less woody and has a more cinnamon-like flavour. In a pinch, as the recipe uses powdered garam masala, you can omit the Indian bay leaf, but don't substitute with laurel bay. Available from Indian food shops.
• Indian cinnamon stick is woodier and looks more like cassia then the smooth-skinned standard cinnamon. Available from Indian food shops. Substitute regular cinnamon quill.
• Garlic-ginger paste is available in bottles from Indian food shops.


Recipe from Journey Kitchen by Kulsum Kunwa, with photographs by Kulsum Kunwa.

Read our Blog Appétit interview with Kulsum Kunwa and view more recipes by her.