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Healthy Chicken Tikka “Meatball-Style” Masala

I developed a love for Indian cuisine when I met my husband almost 18 years ago. It started with some of the more mainstream dishes like tandoori chicken and naan bread but over the years I learned to love pretty much everything! When I adopted a healthier lifestyle a few years ago I stopped eating Indian cuisine altogether, mainly because I’d made a choice to become dairy-free and most of those delicious curries were made with heavy cream or yogurt.

When we moved back to Dubai late last year I was shocked by the cost of organic foods at the grocery store. All of the grocery store items I used to purchase at Trader Joe’s in the United States were either not available or 3-4 times more expensive. As new business owners on a tight budget I knew I would need to find some alternatives that were still healthy but wouldn’t break the bank! Indian spices and ingredients are abundant in this country and inexpensive. I had always relied on my husband, mother-in-law, or friends for my Indian food “fix” but I was determined to give this a go. I’ve made a few dishes over the last few months but I’m most proud of this chicken tikka masala.  This recipe was adapted from Well Plated by Erin’s Healthy Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala and was a big hit with my husband. I’ll take that as a compliment given that my husband was raised on the most delicious Indian food. 🙂

This recipe is a healthier version of a traditional chicken tikka masala.  It’s dairy-free and Whole30 approved if you omit the peas (trust me the dish will taste just as amazing without them)! Instead of using a whole chicken, thighs, or breasts, I formed chicken mince into larger meatballs. It takes a little more work but it’s definitely worth the effort.

This dish is a little spicy but but that’s how my husband and I enjoy our food. Check out my tips below if you want a little less “heat” in your masala dish.

Since I made meatballs, I served this “italian” style with zucchini noodles. You could also serve this with cauliflower rice, white or brown basmati rice, or bread (chapati or naan would be delicious).


Here are a few tips for this recipe…

  • Use a food processor to dice the onion and garlic required for both the meatballs and the masala. Divide out 1/3 of mixture for the meatballs and leave the remainder for the masala.
  • Reduce the heat by using 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder instead of 1/2 teaspoon.
  • Once you have sautéed the onion, garlic, and garlic ginger paste in the ghee, add each spice separately and stir for a few seconds before adding the next spice. This allows the onion and garlic to really soak up the aroma and flavor of each spice.
  • Look for canned tomato sauce with no added sugar. I like the American Garden brand which is available in the UAE, the ingredient list is clean and it’s half the price of the other brands. If you are following a Whole30 diet, do some research to ensure your tomato sauce is Whole30 compliant.
  • I use a whistling pressure cooker. Once it’s brought to pressure on high heat, I turn off the stove top burner after two whistles (approximately 6 minutes). If you are using a pressure cooker with a timer, select high pressure and 6 minutes cook time.
  • If you plan to use a slow cooker or stove top, check out Erin’s recipe notes at https://www.wellplated.com/instant-pot-chicken-tikka-masala/. She has some great notes which you’ll find extremely helpful 😉

If you love Indian cuisine but want something a little healthier and simpler, give this recipe a try. You won’t be disappointed!
Healthy Chicken Tikka “Meatball Style” Masala

yield: 6 servings

prep time: 30 minutes        cook time: 30 minutes         total time: 1 hour


  • 1 lb minced chicken
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (divided) 
  • 2 tablespoons ghee (divided)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon garlic ginger paste
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (use 1/4 teaspoon if desired)
  • 1 small 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 3/4 can coconut cream (14.5 ounce can)
  • 1 cup frozen peas (omit if following Whole30 diet)
  • Fresh coriander (leaves from 8 sprigs)


  1. Using a food processor, dice the onion and garlic cloves. Remove 2/3 of onion and garlic mixture and set aside for the masala.
  2. Put the minced chicken, 1/3 of the diced onion and garlic mixture, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon coriander powder in a large mixing bowl. Mix it all together with your hands. Form the mixture into meatballs about the size of a ping pong ball.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the meatballs until they are browned on all sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Set the meatballs aside on a plate lined with paper towel.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of ghee in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat. One by one, add the remaining onion & garlic mixture, garlic ginger paste, turmeric powder, cumin powder, red chili powder, and garam masala until the onion and garlic have softened and the spices are very fragrant.
  5. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, tomato sauce, and coconut cream to the pressure cooker and stir. Add the chicken meatballs and stir to combine.
  6. Lock the lid in place. If using a whistling pressure cooker, wait for 2 whistles (approximately 6 minutes) after it’s brought to pressure. If using an electric timed pressure cooker, select high pressure and 6 minutes cook time.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in the peas. Let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm with cauliflower rice, rice, or bread and a sprinkle of fresh coriander.




  • reply
    January 14, 2019

    It looks delicious Alissa. Will definitely try it.


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