Food takes center stage at dinner parties. The right menu depends on the crowd and the type of gathering. But when hosts hit the mealtime nail on the head, the results are a good time that guests will be talking about for quite awhile.

Spicy dishes are best avoided as entrées, as everyone reacts to spice differently. However, appetizers can be a great way to add some spice to your next dinner party. Just be sure to let all guests know if an app is spicy before they take their first bites.

While the following recipe for “Lamb Meatballs in a Spicy Malabari Curry” from Ruta Kahate’s “5 Spices, 50 Dishes” (Chronicle Books) is intended as an entrée, that should not prevent hosts from offering it as an appetizer to guests who can’t resist a little kick.

Lamb Meatballs in a Spicy Malabari Curry

Serves 4 to 6


1 pound ground lamb
1⁄4 cup minced shallots (about 1 medium shallot)
2 medium green serrano chiles, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (about 2-inch piece)
3⁄4 teaspoon salt


2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons canola oil
1⁄2 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 shallots, halved and thinly sliced (about 11⁄4 cups)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger (about 1-inch piece)
1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne
1⁄3 cup tomato purée (from 1 small tomato)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1⁄2 cup water
2 medium green serrano chiles, cut lengthwise in half and seeded
11⁄2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

To make the meatballs: Using your hands, mix the lamb with the shallots, chiles, ginger, and salt. Don’t handle the mixture more than necessary, to ensure tender meatballs. Form about 20 golf ball-sized meatballs. Set aside.
To make the curry: In a dry skillet, separately roast the coriander and cumin seeds until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool and grind them together.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid or splatter screen. When the seeds stop popping, add the shallots, garlic and ginger, and stir constantly over medium heat, until the shallots turn golden brown.

Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, and tomato purée. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, water, chiles, and salt, and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer and gently slip in the meatballs.

Continue simmering until the meatballs are cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the cilantro and vinegar and shake the pan instead of stirring so you don’t break the meatballs. Simmer gently for an additional minute. Serve hot.

Note: If you prefer thicker curries, simply omit the water in this recipe.