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Gushtaba – Meatballs in yogurt gravy

Mihika Mirchandani from India

20 minutes
Cooks in
35 minutes
Country of origin

After an unforgettable birthday in Ladakh, which started out solo and ended with the warmth of new friendship, Srinagar paled in comparison. I was the only occupant in my houseboat, the streets were devoid of friendly travelers, and the numerous flower gardens weren’t enough to satiate my hunger for new experiences. But the carnivore in me knew there was an obvious solution: I would drown myself in the delicious meaty gravies and flavors that Srinagar is famous for. I had my heart set on wazwaan – a traditional royal feast eaten at weddings and special occasions. The only problem was, a feast-for-one portion was hard to find, and I wanted to do justice to the meal. But as luck would have it I ran into a familiar face from my travels who became the chosen wazwaan companion. As we stepped into the restaurant that had been so carefully shortlisted, we were hit with the aroma of saffron, fennel, steaming rice, and char grilled meat. We settled for the mini version of the feast – the traditional affair consists of 36 dishes or more, which a family shares from a large common plate. Soon, juicy meatballs swimming in gravy, crackling ribs, and smoky kebabs presented themselves. That first bite of succulent Gushtaba eclipsed all my other Srinagar experiences. The light curd gravy with a hint of sourness, the soft meatballs with the right amount of bite, all brought together with the flavors of cardamom and fennel – it was certainly the star dish for me. And every time someone mentions Srinagar, that’s where my memory takes me. I think food, like music, absorbs new memories every time it’s recreated. When an old friend from London was visiting, I cooked her an Indian meal with Gushtaba as the main dish. And when I make it now, it’s a lot more than fennel and cardamom I taste. The crisp Srinagar air, the thrill of discovering a local cuisine, and the love of friends both old and new, it’s amazing how much a little meatball can hold.


  • For the meatballs:
  • 500 gm minced goat meat (keema) – with some fat ground in
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • A handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon green cardamom powder
  • 1 teaspoon ghee
  • A few slivers of nutmeg
  • 2 green cardamoms
  • 2 black cardamoms
  • Half a stick of cinnamon
  • Water
  • For the gravy
  • 5 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 3 red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon besan (chick pea flour)
  • 2 green cardamoms
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon green cardamom powder
  • Salt to taste


  • Grind the goat mince to a smooth paste with the fennel, mint leaves, half a teaspoon of salt, cardomom powder, nutmeg, and ghee.
  • Put some oil on your hands and shape the mince into small, lemon-sized meatballs
  • Next, fill a large pan till about two thirds of its height, add in the green and black cardomoms, cinnamom, and one and a half teaspoon of salt
  • Bring to a boil
  • Place the meatballs in the water and cook on medium flame for about 3-4 minutes
  • Remove the meatballs from the water and preserve the stalk for the gravy
  • Next, heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan
  • Add the finely chopped onion and minced ginger and cook on a low flame until golden brown
  • Wait till it cools and grind to a paste. Set aside.
  • Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in the same pan.
  • Add the cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, and let them sputter
  • Add the onion mixture and 4-5 tablepsoons of stalk and whisk together
  • Mix in the besan slowly, take off the heat
  • Once slightly cooler, whisk in the yogurt,and mix well
  • Put the pan back on the heat and add about 1 cup of stalk. You can vary the amount of stalk depending on how thick or runny you want the gravy to be
  • Add red chilli powder, corainder powder, cardomom powder, and salt to taste
  • Add the cooked meatballs
  • Simmer on a low flame for 10-15 minutes, allowing all the flavours to come together
  • Taste the gravy and adjust for flavor. You can add more red chilli if you want it spicier
  • Serve hot with basmati rice


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