Rista is a saffron flavoured Kashmiri dish of mutton meatballs in a thin, non spicy red curry. Once you’ve got the meatballs ready, the recipe itself is very easy to do.
Rista is another Kashmiri dish that is a must in a Wazwaan, that elaborate, multi course, Kashmiri festive meal. You can read more about that, as well as Kashmiri history and food culture over at the Kashmiri Cuisine page.
Traditional Rista Recipe
Traditionally, making the meatballs was (still is!) a painstaking process. It involved pounding little cubes of fairly lean meat into a paste, while adding fat throughout the process.
This pounding breaks down the fibres in the meat and destroys the connective tissue, resulting in soft, almost melt-in-the-mouth texture. When you turn this meat into balls, the result is a slightly denser, but still light and bouncy meatballs.
This traditional method of making Kashmiri meatballs for rista (and other Kashmiri dishes) is hard work. Seriously hard work. It takes me an hour to do 500g (1.1lb) worth of lamb meat.
Easy but still Authentic Tasting Kashmiri Meatballs
Now I know that apart from the most enterprising, most of you are not going to want to spend all that time and energy (the arm aches!) pounding away at that meat.
So, I long ago devised this method of achieving the same result by using fatty minced lamb. All we do is place the mince in a food processor and chop away to process the meat and break those fibres down to get the same result as the traditional method.
However, for all you purists and tradition lovers, I shall still give you the method employed by Kashmiri waze (chefs) to prepare rista for the Wazwaan.
Meat for Rista Meatballs
Traditionally, this was mutton. Not goat, as goat has never been a common meat in Kashmir, unlike the rest of India.
If you can find mutton and prefer to use it, by all means, do that. I’m in the UK, as you all know, and mutton isn’t a common meat. And frankly, I’m not a fan. I still remember turning my nose up every time my mum made dalcha with it, even if she only added a handful for flavour. My poor mum!
So, I’m using lamb! In the recipe card, which is the easy Rista recipe I’m giving you, we shall be using lamb mince.
You’ll have to get lamb mince with at least 10% fat, because the meatballs will be tastier, softer, more moist and more like the traditional rista meatballs. Use 15% if you don’t mind the fat, but I don’t think there is any need to go the whole distance for the 20% fat content. In fact, in my opinion, 20% fat mince results in meatballs that are overly greasy and taste of fat.
Easy Rista Recipe
Rista curry is very simply flavoured. It tends to have only saffron, turmeric, Kashmiri chilli powder, black pepper, cardamom and cloves in it. And depending on the waza, maybe one or two more spices. Some may add ground ginger to the meatballs, for example, or on one occasion, I could definitely taste black cardamom in the meatballs themselves.
So the odd additional spice to what I’ve listed above, but never, in my experience, so many all at once.
This is why I’m always disappointed every time I see a recipe for rista with so many spices like ginger, fennel, cumin, coriander and so on. Having tasted the real thing many times over, I can tell you that it is a very streamlined curry in terms of spices.
Once you start adding all the spices above, your rista is going to start tasting like rogan josh or any other number of curries. The idea behind the wazwaan is that each curry has its own unique flavour and aroma.
This is what we’ll be doing:
- Process the mince in the food processor with salt and cardamom powder.
- Form meatballs with the meat.
- Soak the saffron and mawal.
- Cook the curry (about an hour).
Rista Ingredients, briefly
Saffron lends that inimitable aroma and flavour to the curry, which along with the Kashmiri chilli powder, helps to give this Kashmiri curry its reddish hue. But what really makes the colour is the use of mawal, the cockscomb flower.
Mawal (Cockscomb Flower)
I did a post on mawal not too long ago, as well as one on ratan jot, the other natural food colouring used in Kashmiri cooking. What has always surprised me when making rista is that both my Kashmiri cooking teachers use mawal, despite coming from different Kashmiri communities, the Pandits and the Muslims.
You can read more about that, Kashmiri history and culture on the Kashmiri Cuisine page.
However, I am going to assume here that you are not able to get your hands on the cockscomb flower for our rista curry. You have 3 choices:
- forget about trying to get your rista super red, and just cook the curry as in the recipe below, without mawal.
- you could add a little more Kashmiri chilli powder to enhance the colour slightly. Kashmiri chilli powder isn’t too hot, so you should be fine. Rista is also not a spicy curry, as claimed by some food sites. But not too much, as too much of any chilli powder will make your recipe bitter.
- use ratan jot instead. It should be easily available online in the UK and the US. You can read more about ratan jot here, and below is my affiliate link for it (that means I get a tiny commission off any sale through this site):
Mawal and Saffron Used Together
Kashmiri Chilli Powder
Kashmiri chilli powder is ground, dried, red kashmiri chillies. Kashmiri chillies are all about colour and flavour, not heat. They add a vibrant red to the dishes they are used in, like our rista today.
At just 1000 – 2000 Scoville units, these are super mild chillies, and are grown for the vibrancy they give to recipes. If you can’t find real Kashmiri chilli powder, get the mildest one you can find.
To my American readers: chilli powder outside of the US means just that – ground, dried chilli peppers, nothing else added. What you guys would call cayenne powder, I believe.
Fried Onion Paste
This is, literally, what its name suggests. We fry some onions, then grind it into a paste. I did a detailed post on this last week in preparation for today’s rista (and future Kashmiri recipes).
I employ the low and slow method, caramelising the onions, rather than deep frying them. This gives a much more developed flavour to the fried onion paste. Click here for the recipe.
I suggest you make a big batch of the fried onion paste FIRST and store in the freezer in ice cube trays. That way, you’ll have enough for today’s rista and all the other recipes we’ll be doing in the coming months.
Lamb Stock for Rista
Even the lamb stock for rista is simply made. All the Kashmiris do is drop some lamb bones in water and boil them away for just 30 minutes to make a light stock. No spices, no aromatics. So that’s exactly what I do too, with some bones from the butcher.
I always make extra. So I take what I need for the rista, and keep boiling the rest with topped up water, and the usual celery, garlic, onions and a bay leaf or two. Or ginger and star anise if I fancy Chinese stock.
You can always go down the shop bought route if you like, but I would suggest diluting your stock to half strength
There are a few Kashmiri and Indian meatball recipes. For the Kashmiri recipes (and some Indian ones), I use this same recipe for the meatballs themselves. If I am planning to make some, I make a big batch and form the meatballs, then freeze them raw until I need them.
The three popular Kashmiri meatball recipes that I make are:
- gushtaba (in yoghurt sauce)
- palak rista (with spinach)
Gushtaba meatballs are the biggest, next rista and palak rista meatballs are the tiniest. I’ve long given them weights to standardise them for when I cook for clients and for my classes. These are the weights: 80g, 40g, 20g, see image below.
So, since I shall be making the other 2 recipes sometime in September, why don’t you make the meatballs for the other 2 curries and freeze them?
Right then, I think that’s about it for the behind the scenes of cooking rista. Let’s take a look at the traditional method of preparing the ristas (meatballs) before we go on to the simplified version using minced lamb in the recipe card below.
Traditional Kashmiri Meatballs
Makes about 25-30 meatballs for rista. By all means halve the recipe, and the spices and other ingredients written in the recipe card.
- 1 kg (2.2 lb) lean lamb or mutton
- 200 g (7 oz) meat fat (lamb, beef, goose) or unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds
- 1 Tbsp salt
- Pound the meat with a mallet on a smooth surface until it is slightly lighter in colour.
- Add some of the fat as you keep pounding to break down the fibres until you have a fairly light coloured meat that has a paste like texture.
- Add the salt and ground cardamom and mix it all in with your hands.
- Wash your hands, then get a bowl of chilled water.
- Form balls weighing about 40g (1.5 oz, rounded up) with the meat paste, wetting your hands often to prevent sticking. Set aside until needed. Can also be frozen raw.
Traditionally also, to cook rista, all the ingredients (from the recipe card below) would just be added to a pan, and left to simmer for an hour or so. However, I prefer to brown the meatballs first, which is the way we do it in the recipe card below.
Shall we get our aprons on?
More Curries on LinsFood
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Rista Recipe (Kashmiri Meatballs in Saffron Flavoured Red Curry)
- Food processor (for the meat)
- 1 kg lamb bones
- 1.5 litres water
The Ristas (Meatballs)
- 1 kg minced lamb (at least 10% fat)
- 1 Tbsp salt
- ½ tsp ground cardamom seeds
For the Saffron and Mawal Water (or just saffron water)
- 1 big pinch saffron
- 2 heads mawal (cockscomb flower heads, omit of unavailable
- 125 ml freshly boiled water
Lamb Stock (get this going before you start with everything else)
- Place the bones and water in a large saucepan or stockpot and bring to a low boil. Skim off any scum as necessary.
- Leave to simmer for 30 minutes, then strain and use in the recipe.
Let's make the Meatballs
- Place the mince into a large food processor, along with the salt and cardamom. Do this in batches if your food processor isn't big enough.
- Process on medium for about 30 seconds, scrape down, then another 30 seconds.
- Scrape down again, and repeat the process: 30 seconds, scrape down, another 30 seconds. This should do it. At this point, you'll have a fairly homogeneous looking lamb paste.
- Form balls weighing about 40g (1.5 oz, rounded up) with the meat paste, wetting your hands often to prevent sticking. Set aside until needed. Can also be frozen raw. In the image, the middle ball is for rista.
The Saffron and Mawal Water (or just Saffron Water)
- If you've got mawal or cockscomb flower, place the flower heads in a bowl and pour half a cup boiling water over them. Leave to soak for 5 minutes. (Get your dry spices ready in the meantime). If you are not using mawal, go to the saffron step below.
- After 5 minutes, drain using a very fine sieve.
- Add the saffron to this red water (or just hot water, if not using mawal). Crumble the saffron threads as you add them. Leave aside until needed at the end of the recipe.
Let's cook the Rista
- Heat the ghee in a large saucepan or dutch oven on medium-high heat and brown the meatballs. Do this in batches if you have to.
- Lower the heat to medium, then add the cloves, green cardamoms, Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric and give it all a good stir, no more than 10 seconds as the spices will burn.
- Add the garlic and fried onion paste and give it another quick stir. But be fairly gentle as you don't want to break the meatballs up.
- Add the lamb stock, stir and bring to a boil. When it's come to a boil, lower the heat right down, cover, and cook for 1 hour.
- At the end of the hour, add the saffron-mawal water, stir and bring back to a simmer. Leave it to simmer for 1 minute, and check to see if you need any salt (this depends on the stock you used).
- Finish off with some freshly ground black pepper, turn the heat off and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving with rice or roti.