It would be honest to say this is the most exciting post for me so far. Malai Kofta is a vegetarian dumpling dish made with the best curry sauce you will ever taste. It is also my all-time favorite Indian dish. What is most significant about this dish is that we served it at our wedding. It’s a very fancy dish, which you don’t find cooked regularly in Indian home kitchens. It’s mostly made for special occasions such as weddings and large festivals. Surprisingly though, my first exposure to Malai Kofta was an Indian TV dinner. We used to spend every weekend in Santa Cruz (my home town) and rather than cooking two and a half days worth of food, Hubby and I would stock up on Mirch Masala brand TV Dinners.
We tried an array of different flavors and upon tasting the Malai Kofta, it became my favorite. When it came time to plan the food for the wedding, it was a no-brainer. We had to have Malai Kofta.
Our wedding was held at a beautiful home perched on the hill top of a golf course in the Santa Cruz mountains. Assuming the chef would be no expert in Indian cooking, we explained to the event planner that we would be catering our favorite Indian dish.
“We don’t allow any outside food”, she explained to us as sweetly as possible. “The chef can make anything you request.”
“Can he make great Malai Kofta?” we asked, doubtfully.
In the end, we insisted on a tasting. After all, how could a non-Indian chef know how to make mouth-watering Malai Kofta?
We came back a week later for the tasting. When the Malai Kofta came out, it looked promising; good red-orange color, thick sauce, great smell. So we gave it a try.
It was the best Malai Kofta we had ever tasted.
Naturally we were intrigued, so we asked the chef a few questions.
“How did you learn to make such amazing Malai Kofta?” we asked, still in shock over the great lunch we had just had. “Have you ever cooked Indian food before?”
“Actually, no I never have.” he explained. “But my girlfriend is Indian, so I called her mother and asked for the recipe.”
We told him that Malai Kofta is our favorite Indian dish and that we have had it at some of the best Indian restaurants in the Bay Area. We told him all about the Indian TV dinner and he was curious to know where to buy it and try it for himself. He was thrilled and a bit astonished that his Malai Kofta was so good. That tasting sealed the deal and we were married two weeks later.
Since then, I grew to expect my love for Malai Kofta was destined to be enjoyed only at weddings and restaurants. I never dreamed I would actually know how to make on my own. Add to the fact it has now become my signature dish. I’ve also realized that making Malai Kofta is actually really, really easy…relatively speaking for Indian cooking.
Traditionally, Malai Kofta is made with mixed vegetables and Indian cheese (paneer) which is formed into dumplings and then deep fried. While I enjoy fried food just as much as everyone else, I’m not a fan of frying at home. So this is actually a baked version of Malai Kofta, which helps make it easier to make. It’s an instant crowd pleaser at every party and making this for dinner can turn a seemingly ordinary evening into something special.
MALAI KOFTA RECIPEFrom Mom with love by Pushpa Bhargava
Malai means “cream” and Kofta means “dumpling”. There are many versions of Malai Kofta. Some use mixed vegetable dumplings that are deep fried. This version is with soft potato and Indian cheese dumplings that are broiled in the oven, rather than deep fried.
The real star of this dish is the curry sauce. The sauce always goes faster than the koftas. I’ll often make double the amount of the curry sauce and still end up with leftover koftas.
For the Koftas:
6 small potatoes (20oz/550g)
8 ounces paneer, or thick ricotta cheese (227g)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered milk
1 1/2 tablespoons corn flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons ghee (or oil)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion or 3 shallots (5oz/140g)
1 teaspoon garlic and ginger paste
- substitute 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped along with 1/2-inch of ginger, peeled and grated.
4 medium tomatoes, pureed (20oz/550g)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika (for color)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups heavy cream/whipping cream
2 Tablespoons Kasoori Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves) – see SPECIAL INGREDIENTS
The curry is made with heavy cream and any brand of heavy cream will work well. The sauce is thickened with corn starch to achieve the right texture. However, I had a friend over for dinner who gets stomach aches from corn starch and I wanted to make her the Malai Kofta since it is my best dish. I was unsure of what to do and luckily found a high quality whipping cream from the Strauss Family Creamery. Usually when I blend the sauce with the cream, I add the corn starch. However, the Strauss cream was of such high quality that it thickened on it’s own without any corn starch needed. So if you want a more natural curry, I recommend the Strauss Family cream, however it’s a bit on the expensive side.
This recipe also calls for Kasoori Methi, available at Indian grocery stores (pronounced Ka-SOO-ri MEH-ti), which is dried Fenugreek leaves. I have only ever found this for sale at the Indian store. I checked with Whole Foods and they do carry Fenugreek seeds as well as ground Fenugreek powder. It’s not quite the same as using the dried leaves, which have a flavor I can only describe as great “curry flavor”. You can substitute a 1/2 teaspoon of ground Fenugreek and add it along with the other ground spices. However, if you do have access to the dried leaves, it’s a much better option. I usually try not to insist on ingredients you can only find at Indian stores, but using Kasoori Methi really makes a big difference.
STEP 1: START THE KOFTAS
To save time, start the potatoes now, then we will come back to the koftas later.
Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes or until they are fork tender.
I like to use small potatoes because they boil faster than medium or large potatoes. They also fit easily into the feed tube of my food processor, which we will be using later.
When the potatoes are done boiling, drain them and place them in the refrigerator to help them cool faster. It will take about half an hour for them to cool down enough to touch. In the meantime, let’s start the curry sauce.
STEP 2: START THE SAUCE
Like almost every Indian dish, we start with a tadka, where spices are added to hot oil and more flavorings are added such as onion, ginger and garlic. This recipe uses a tomato tadka.
Add 2 tablespoons of ghee or cooking oil and let the oil heat up.
When the oil is hot enough (but not smoking!), add a 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds. The seeds will turn a shade or two darker after about 5 seconds. This helps the seeds release their flavor. Let them splutter for only 5 or 6 seconds, then move quickly, adding the onions before they get a chance to burn!
Once you see the surface of the oil begin to ripple, add only a couple of cumin seeds. If they immediately sputter and begin to brown, add the rest of the cumin seeds. If nothing really happens at first, the oil is not hot enough. It’s important that the oil be the right temperature to release the flavor of the whole spices.
Add the chopped onion or shallots and fry for 8-10 minutes until they are well browned but not burnt.
A lot of people don’t let their onions brown enough. Browning the onions will intensify the flavor, and the color of the curry.
STEP 3: ADD GARLIC & GINGER
Add 1 teaspoon of garlic and ginger paste.
If you don’t have garlic and ginger paste (either homemade or store-bought) you can add 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped along with 1/2-inch of ginger, which has been peeled and grated.
STEP 4: PUREE THE TOMATO
While the onions are browning, rinse the tomatoes, chop off the stem or top and puree them in the food processor (make sure there are no chunks).
Once the onions are dark brown, add the pureed tomato and cook for 10-15 minutes until it has reduced and most of the liquid has evaporated.
You can also use finely diced tomato instead of blending the tomato, I just find blending the tomato faster and easier than chopping it. I don’t recommended using store bought tomato puree, the flavor is completely different.
STEP 5: ADD THE SPICES
When the tomatoes are done they should look like the picture on the left.
Add the spices…yes, it’s a long list, but it’s sooo worth it.
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. garam masala,
1 tsp. sugar,
1/2 tsp. paprika (for color),
1/2 tsp. red chili powder,
1/2 tsp. turmeric,
1/2 tsp. salt
(and if you’re using ground Fenugreek to replace the Kasoori Methi add a 1/2 teaspoon now as well).
Mix in the spices.
STEP 6: BLEND
Add the spicy tomato mixture to the blender along with 1 1/2 cups of water.
Add 2 teaspoons of corn starch, while the blender is still running (on low). The corn starch will help to thicken the sauce. If you are using high quality thick cream such as the Strauss Family cream, you may not need to add any corn starch at all. However, once you reheat the sauce, it should thicken up. If it doesn’t, you need to pour the sauce back in the blender and add more corn starch.
I usually add the cream to the blender along with the sauce so that the cream can thicken and whip a bit in the blender (the Strauss cream thickens especially well in the blender). However, I did not have enough room in the blender to add the cream, so I blended the sauce and added the cream once the sauce was back in the pot.
STEP 7: ADD THE CREAM
Pour the blended mixture back into the pot and bring to a boil (about a minute on medium heat).
Add 2 cups of cream (unless you did this earlier) and mix well.
STEP 8: ADD THE KASOORI METHI
This is the finishing touch to the curry sauce. Take 2 tablespoons of Kasoori Methi in your hands and rub the dried leaves between your hands and let it sprinkle into the pan. Crushing the Kasoori Methi into a rough powder like this helps release its flavor.
MAKING THE KOFTAS
STEP 1: PEEL THE POTATOES
Take the potatoes out of the refrigerator and peel them.
STEP 2: GRATE THE POTATOES AND THE CHEESE
Grate the paneer using the grater attachment on your food processor.
You can mash the potatoes if you want but I always find that too much trouble. Instead, I like to put the grater attachment into my food processor and grate the potatoes through the food processor. They end up looking like string cheese but it will mash up when you mix everything later on and you’ll be done is about ten seconds. You will end up with some gunky potato still stuck to the cover of the food processor, I usually discard this because it’s too sticky. Because grating the potatoes can be a bit messy, I like to grate the paneer first.
If you do not have a food processor yet I highly encourage you to invest in one. It will save you a huge amount of time and effort in the kitchen. I adore my well used kitchen aid food processor. The newer ones come with a small bowl that can be inserted into the large bowl for when you need to process smaller batches, such as making homemade ginger and garlic paste. My food processor doesn’t have this and I sometimes wish this could justify getting a new one.
STEP 3: MIX AND MASH
Add to the bowl of grated cheese and potatoes: 1 tbs. all-purpose flour, 1 tbs. powdered milk, 1 1/2 tbs. corn flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. garam masala.
Mix everything together.
Scoop out spoon-sized amounts of the mixture and roll them between your hands to form a ball.
I like to use a small 1-ounce ice cream scoop so all my koftas are the same size.
STEP 4: BAKE THE KOFTAS
Move the oven rack to the second highest position, about 4-5 inches from the broiler (if you have a broiling drawer, you don’t need to do this). Turn the broiler on high.
Place the koftas on two non-stick baking sheets (if you do not have non-stick, line the baking sheet with parchment paper).
Place under the broiler and bake for 10-15 minutes. Start checking the koftas at about 10 minutes. The tops of the koftas will darken and form a crust.
I like to keep the koftas and sauce separate because the koftas are very delicate and can fall apart if they sit in the sauce. I put all the koftas on a plate and pour the curry sauce into a soup bowl. Once it’s at the dinner table, everyone can take as many koftas as they like and pour on the sauce.