Fragrant Coconut-Saffron Rice Pilaf With Minty Chicken Balls

I have a lovely mexican couple as neighbours.We hang out with them almost every weekend for movies, casino buffets and bowling. Me and the wife pair up as the girl’s team against the guys and visit to shopping at our favorite stores is our bet.We dont win all the time [okay we have won just 2 games out of last 8 ] and end up loosing by huge margins but still women power rules and we shop insanely.

It all started when me and P had just shifted to the new apartment for few days and one afternoon, their dog entered my house seeing the open door and started sniffing my aquarium and I shouted in horror.The wife apologized,that is how we got introduced and clicked in a few weeks.Of all the times we have gone out together for eating, I have seen noticed she ONLY eats three things-pepperoni pizza, hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.I have not seen her eating a fourth thing in the 7 months I have known her, not even at buffets where there is a plethora of food to tempt you.

She doesn’t know like to cook much even though you will find each and every thinkable gadget in her kitchen and a refrigerator full of store-bought ready to eat stuff.I dont know why she buys so much stuff  if she doesn’t want to use it ….although she is generous enough to lend me all of it numerous times.Infact all the cakes on the blog are thanks to her kitchen aid.

During one of dinners,somewhere midway between the conversations when we were discussing tortillas and Naan, the wife who is also a self-proclaimed “cheese lady” asked me “If I go to India, do you think that I would suffer?” I laughed and asked “what makes you think so?”She replied ” I don’t see either of you eating cheese so I m wondering if you have cheese in India?” I calmed her down and told her that though cheese is not that big an ingredient in indian cooking but she doesnt need to worry about getting famished out there coz it’s widely available!Driving back, me and P exchanged smilies at the horrid look on her face as we discussed differences in indian and american/mexican cuisines and the wave of serenity which swiped her face when she heard about availability of cheese.

The husband, who is P’s good friend now, is more normal in his eating habits.One thing he can’t stand in food is heat from chillies.Other than that he enjoys foods of all kinds.Recently he made an ornate looking showcase for our living room and while he fixed it up on the wall, I invited both of them to have dinner of this rice pilaf with us.I told them beforehand that though it’s an Indian rice dish, there is not much heat.At first, they were slightly reluctant but I think they decided to give it a shot out of courtesy.We were surprised to see the way they relished this rice pilaf with cucumber raita [yogurt] and the husband left telling me that I should pass on the recipe to his wife too.The more I interact with them, I just feel that food can bind people from different cultures and palates in the most beautiful day. I have promised them a taste of mild curry next from the indian cuisine.

Okay, this is a recipe I recreated from memories of a tasty lunch we had P’s room mate’s house when he was studying in IIT,Madras.I was visiting him for the valentine weekend then.I did not feel very comfortable asking his friend’s mom the recipe so cant say what she exactly put in her rice pot.I would not call it an authentic south indian dish but somewhat influenced by the flavors from that region of India-the coconut oil,coconut milk and curry leaves.I plan to make this for P again this Valentine and relive those memories from 6 years back when love was about sitting on a beautiful sea-shore, eating fresh caught fried fish on the beach amid the humid, sand laden air and the setting sun.Ahh its still so fresh in my mind..all those youthful years of teen love.Whats your plan for the valentine-how about reviving some old food memories?

Dont forget to see the notes in the end.

What I need:

For the chicken balls: [Makes 15-18 medium size balls]

1 lb minced chicken [or lamb or beef]
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp grated garlic
1/4 cup mint leaves,finely chopped
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
Black pepper powder to taste
1 egg [optional]
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp salt

You can add any spices you like to the meat balls, I kept them simple.

For the pilaf:

1 cup basmati rice, thoroughly washed 2-3 times in a stream of water.
2 cups coconut milk + 1 cup water/chicken stock
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
8-10 fresh curry leaves
Whole spices: 2-3 cloves,1 cinnamon stick,4-5 green cardamom,2 bay leaves+4 dry red chillies
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp red chilli powder
generous pinch of saffron strands mixed with 1 tbsp warm milk
2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil + 2 tbsp canola oil
Salt to taste

How I did it:

For the chicken balls:In a medium bowl,mix all the ingredients with the minced chicken except salt, cover the bowl with cling film and let it sit for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator.You may or may not need egg depending about the if how moist your minced chicken is.
After refrigeration, mix in the salt and make small balls with the chicken mince.Set aside.Dont make very big balls because the balls with increase in size once cooked.
In a wide-mouthed pot/kadai with a lid, heat the on medium heat.Once heated, add the finely chopped onions to the oil and cook until just turning brown.
Next add all the whole spices to the onions and saute for about 2 minutes.Add the curry leaves to next.Be slightly careful when you add curry leaves because they will crackle as soon as they hit oil.
Once the curry leaves have crackled, add the coconut milk+water/chicken stock, red chilli & turmeric powder and salt to the utensil and let it come to a boil.

Once boiling, add a single chicken ball to and see if it retains its shape.If yes, add the rest of the balls.If the chicken ball start falling apart, you will need to add more binder like cornstarch/eggs to the mince and make balls again.
Cook the chicken balls in the coconut milk till they are almost done.An easy way to test this is that when you take out a ball and cut it half way , you will see a little reddish centre.
Drain the chicken balls from the coconut milk and set aside.Let the liquid cool to room temperature in the pot.
For the Pilaf : Next measure out the liquid in the utensil to ensure the quantity of liquid which your rice type needs to cook.For example, 1 cup of my rice quality cooks in 2.5 cups of water.Add the washed rice to the pot and let the rice soak for at least 2 hours.
Once rice has soaked,let the rice cook on medium-high heat, lid on,till 90% cooked.Add the chicken balls and saffron to the rice, give it a gentle stir and let steam until rice is 100% cooked.About 5 minutes.
Mint -Cucumber Raita[Yogurt]: Add chopped fresh cucumber and 1 tbsp finely ground fresh mint leaves to 2 cups of plain beaten thick yogurt and season with roasted cumin powder, salt/black salt, red chilli powder as per liking.
Serve warm with cucumber & mint yogurt!


Curry leaves are available in dry or fresh forms at all the indian grocery stores.They add great flavor and aroma to any dish/lentils just like herb.
Though coconut oil adds a lot of authentic flavor to rice,but you can completely replace it with any oil u want.I used part of it for flavor.
Be very careful of the cooking time once chicken balls have been added to the rice pot.They turn hard in no time.
You can use cubed chicken also in place of chicken balls,adjust the cooking time of chicken accordingly.
The only flaw I saw in the dish was that the leftover chicken balls became little hard the next day when I reheated them.But rice tasted much better the next day.


Sending this to Hearth n Soul #34


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