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in the kitchen with: big girls, small kitchen meatball subs

by Kristina Gill

The first time I made this week’s recipe for Mini Ginger Chicken Meatball Subs with Masala Sauce, I was testing the recipe for the column. From my initial taste test, I thought they were pretty darn good, so I set out a bowl of the meatballs and some mini-sub rolls for my husband and his best friend, who had been out moving furniture all day. They demolished every single one, and I made another batch the next day, so I could enjoy more than a small taste test. Cara and Phoebe, the best friends behind the Big Girls, Small Kitchen blog, did a fantastic job with this recipe, just like the one for their Giant Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies.  From my own personal experience, the flavor gets deeper as the sauce sits, so don’t be afraid to double the recipe and have leftovers! If this dish is indicative of the quality of recipes included in their upcoming book, I can’t wait to see it! — Kristina

About Cara and Phoebe: Cara and Phoebe have been best friends since middle school, and in November 2008, they founded the food and cooking blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen to chronicle how they were cooking in their post-college, New York City lives. On Tuesday, May 24th, they release their first cookbook, In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes from Our Year of Cooking in the Real World.  The “girls” are committed to helping twenty-somethings make use of their kitchens, and their food is accessible but not dumbed down — and, of course, delicious. Cara and Phoebe live in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and Flatiron, Manhattan, respectively.

CLICK HERE for the full recipe after the jump!

Mini Ginger Chicken Meatball Subs with Masala Sauce
Makes about 2 dozen


For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground chicken thigh
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
  • 3/4 cup white breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 4 shallots
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin (ground is fine, but whole seeds give more flavor)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 cup canned tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Serrano chile, halved
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup cilantro

For assembly:

  • 24 dinner rolls
  • fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Meatball Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. You may want to grind the shallots, garlic, ginger and breadcrumbs in the food processor to get them cut small enough.

3. Form into small, golf-sized balls (you should get 24 to 26) and arrange them about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Bake until browned on top and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

The meatballs can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Sauce Directions

1. Combine the diced tomatoes and tomato paste in a mini food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil over high heat in a large cast-iron pan until smoking. Add the mustard seeds and cover immediately, and wait until they stop popping (15 seconds). Turn the heat to medium and add the shallots, garlic and ginger. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring nearly constantly, until the shallots are quite golden. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne, and serrano chile cut in half.  Cook for another minute or so to toast the spices. Pour in the pureed tomato, and cook down for 3 to 4 minutes. It should be reduced to an almost paste-like consistency.

3. Pour in the coconut milk, the salt and sugar and about 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil. Simmer covered for 5 to 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Taste for salt and spiciness. Remove the serrano chile halves, then add the meatballs and the cilantro to the sauce. Toss well, and heat the meatballs through.

4. If they’re not already cut, cut each dinner roll 2/3 of the way through. Jam a meatball in each one and spoon some extra sauce on top. Garnish with cilantro, then press the top town.

Photography by Kristina Gill. Yellow plate, Soendergaard Design; round sauce dish, Sabon; meatball bowl from market in Phnom Penh; turquoise flat roaster, Le Creuset

Why Cara and Phoebe Chose This Recipe:
The last chapter of our book, In the Small Kitchen, is all about birthdays — Cara’s, Phoebe’s and our blog’s one-year anniversary. For each, we served nostalgic American fare: homemade onion dip, variations on mac ‘n cheese and cupcakes. One of the biggest hits was the meatball sliders that Phoebe served at her 24th birthday celebration. Those were classic Italian, but they were such a hit that we’ve since developed loads of variations. These meatball sliders are made with chicken, spiced with ginger and dolloped with rich, creamy Indian masala sauce.

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  • This sounds sooooooo good! Guess what I’m making this weekend? :)))) Will check and see if my library has the book on order!

  • What a fantastic idea! I love anything related to quarter life transitions! I found mine to be tough and I still do ;)

  • I love meatballs. Any type of meat rolled in a ball and slathered with sauce is my kind of meal. If I had had this recipe in the midst of my quarter life crisis I certainly would have gained the post-college 15. Can’t wait to try it! Congrats on the book.

  • @Annie – I always just highlight, copy and paste into another document to print it. People requested that we not break up the text of the recipes with photos, so we try to keep the text in one easy block to facilitate copying and pasting, for printing.

  • Ok I made this last night and let me just say – amazing! Much better than I even imagined (and I imagined it would be pretty wonderful).

    The only thing was that I never found out what I was supposed to do with the serrano chile? I re-read the recipe a few hundred times to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. Am I going crazy? ;)

    Thanks for sharing this and I’m really looking forward to the cookbook now!

  • @Stephanie Oh no–an omission! You add the serrano right before the tomatoes, let it simmer with the sauce, and then remove before serving. (Or, stick it into the meatball sub you’re giving to your mortal enemy…)

  • @Stephanie – thanks for pointing that out. I made this twice and don’t know how I didn’t notice the missing instruction, though you can see from the pan of sauce that my chile is in the pan!!!

    I will update the instructions.

  • Thanks ladies! I have to say, even without the chile, this was a really flavorful dish. Loved it. Can’t wait to try it again with the new instruction. ;)

    P.S. Really like the mortal enemy idea…

  • Thank you so much for the recipe! I cheated/made these last night. As a novice, the sauce was scary to attempt. After seeing how tasty and easy the balls were, will def try the sauce on round 2!

  • @shelovestea – it’s so easy to make the sauce! you just follow the steps, which seem daunting but aren’t it’s just adding an ingredient…stirring…waiting a bit, adding the next. No pressure, no muss, no fuss! You’ll LOVE them with the sauce I’m sure!

  • I made these when my mother was visiting last week and it was total hit! So much so that when I gathered the ingredients to make it *again* tonight I was like, “hey serrano chile that I bought last week: why are you still here?” Thanks for the update.

  • I have made this a couple of times now – once for 40 people at my Dad’s 60th birthday – and I’m back here for the recipe again! Thanks for sharing this LURVELY dish
    Emily from Australia