This Persian sweet and sour chicken meatballs recipe is my quick and easy variation of khoresht-e aloo ba havij (plum & carrot khoresht/khoresh).
I hate to call it a stew but there’s no other word in English to use. In Persian cuisine my sweet and sour chicken meatballs belongs to the category of khoresht (also pronounced as khoresh) like many other so-called stews that we serve with rice. Like curries if you will. Khoreshts can be green, yellow, red or even dark brown.
Khoreshts are made with various kinds of vegetables, herbs, nuts, fruits and pulses. Many include meat, poultry or fish but there are some without. A khoresht is often named after whichever ingredient that is the star of the dish. Possibilities are quite endless.
You’ve probably noticed that there’s no mention of chicken in the Persian version of the name of the my khoresht. That’s because in this one carrots and prunes are the shining stars.
Meat usually plays the second fiddle to vegetables, herbs or fruits in a khoresht. Have you seen my Persian Aubergine (Eggplant) Stew with Meatballs & Dried Lime recipe? If you are not a big fan of meat you can make that one with chicken pieces or meatballs like this one. Or use mushrooms if you like and it will still be khoresht bademjoon (aubergine/eggplant khoresht).
Nothing is really set in stone in Persian cooking. We even don’t really measure our ingredients. Most Persian cooks just use their eyes, taste buds and noses and few have measuring cups and spoons in their kitchens!
I learned cooking in the same way. My grandmothers didn’t have measuring cups or scales in their kitchens but very magically they managed to turn out fabulous dishes of same quality every time.
When I’m writing recipes I do use scales and measuring spoons. It takes more time but I want to give you a recipe that works. You can go on to make it your own by adjusting the ingredients to your own taste. It’s the method that really matters.
I often make my sweet and sour chicken with thigh pieces but when I have chicken breasts in the fridge I tend to make chicken meatballs for this khoresht rather than using whole or cut up breasts. All the spices that I add to the meatballs and the onion that goes into it makes the rather bland chicken breast taste so much better and more succulent.
In Iran this dish is usually made with golden aloo bokhara, a special kind of yellow plums that are poached, peeled and sun dried. Aloo bokhara is quite hard to come by here. I find prunes a very good substitute but add a little fresh lemon juice to the sauce. It works quite well.
Chicken meatballs with carrots and prunes is delicious with rice but you can also serve it on its own, with crusty bread and a nice green salad like my Herby, Garlicky, Lemony Romaine Lettuce Salad and a lovely glass of dry white wine.
Ingredients to serve four:
For the meatballs:
- 3 medium chicken breasts, cubed
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
- 1 tbsp butter
For the sauce:
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 1/2 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 4 medium carrots, sliced or cut into batons
- A handful of pitted prunes
- Pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
- sugar to taste
- Put the cubed chicken, onion, salt and spices in a food processor and blitz until everything is chopped up.
- Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. Wet your hands and shape the chicken mixture into balls larger than walnuts. Add to the pan and fry on medium heat until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add one tablespoon oil to the pan and gently fry the carrots for a few minutes without colouring. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the rest of the oil to the pan and fry the chopped onions on medium heat until well caramelised. Add the turmeric and cumin and cook briefly. Add the tomato paste and salt and cook for a minute or two.
- Return the chicken meatballs and carrots to the pan. Add the prunes and enough boiling water to almost cover the meatballs. Bring to the boil. Add the saffron and lower the heat. Cover the pan and simmer for thirty minutes or until the carrots and prunes are cooked through.
- Add lemon juice and a pinch of sugar to taste and adjust the seasoning. During cooking you can always add a little boiling water if the sauce is too thick or cook longer to reduce it. Serve with rice.