Malai Kofta is one of my most favourite Indian dishes and that is precisely why I have spent so long perfecting this easy Malai Kofta recipe.
It’s literally the first thing I look for on an Indian menu. I even spent weeks in India trying to find the perfect version. I’m already drooling…
I’ve made it at home several times, but it’s a dish so beloved to me that I wanted to make sure I got it really right before I shared it with you.
What is Malai Kofta?
Crumbled paneer, which is an Indian-style cheese, is folded into mashed potato with chopped cashews, cilantro, raisins and a bit of spice. The mixture is shaped into balls, which are lightly fried in oil. The kofta are then gently simmered in a fragrantly spiced cashew-tomato-cream sauce. And it is absolutely blissfully delicious.
The name Malai Kofta is loosely translated from Hindi to English as ’dumplings in cream sauce’. Malai, denoting ’cream’ or ‘creamy’ and ‘kofta’ being balls, or dumplings.
As with most traditional dishes across cultures, there are a few different versions of this delicious Indian dish.
Since there are two components to this dish, there are two avenues in which malai kofta can differ, really – the sauce, and the dumplings.
Typically, the dumplings in Malai Kofta are made of a mix of mashed potato and Indian-style cheese, called paneer.
To that mixture, delicious additions like tiny pieces of dried fruit, nuts of vegetables are sprinkled in, to add a touch of sweetness or crunch as you dig into this truly delightful and comforting dish.
However, some kitchens may disagree and argue that the kofta are to be made of minced meat. This easy malai kofta recipe is my own favourite version, and I personally opt for the potato-cheese dumpling style.
Feeling adventurous? Try making your own paneer with my step-by-step paneer recipe: How to Make Homemade Paneer.
When it comes to Malai Kofta sauce, there is yet again a few different ways I’ve seen it prepared.
This one, with a creamy tomato sauce, is divine.
But there’s another one out there with a sweet white gravy that is flavourless in comparison, and I can’t stand it. It’s cloyingly rich and sweet, and made mostly of cream (with a little bit of heartbreak and disappointment).
So I have a bit of a bipolar relationship with restaurant-style Malai Kofta. If I’m wailing into my paratha, I got the wrong one. If you want to know what that feels like, try my Perfect Paratha Recipe (a fluffy Indian flatbread similar to naan).
How to Make Malai Kofta
1. Prepare mixture for kofta (dumplings)
White potatoes are boiled and mashed together with paneer cheese, then studded with crunchy, sweet bits to make for an indulgent, balanced kofta.
2. Prepare sauce and simmer to develop flavour
Onion, ginger, garlic and other fragrant Indian spices are sauteed then simmered in a rich sauce made from tomato puree, heavy cream and nut butter.
3. Form kofta mixture into balls
The potato and cheese mixture is rolled into small dumplings to be fried.
4. Fry kofta until golden
The malai kofta dumplings are crisped in oil over the stovetop until perfectly golden.
5. Add kofta to sauce and garnish
Fragrant, bright cilantro and slivered almond are sprinkled atop this dish to really add depth and texture.
Important Tips for Making Malai Kofta
It’s ok to use leftover mashed potatoes, even if you’ve added milk or cream. Just add some breadcrumbs until the mixture is thick enough to easily bind together. We are just frying them to brown the outsides, so don’t use flour or there will be an unpleasant raw, starchy taste.
Instead of paneer, you can use ricotta, but unless you strain it first in cheesecloth, it will have more liquid. Again, add breadcrumbs to the kofta mixture until it easily holds its shape.
The recipe calls for tomato puree – you can use prepared tomato sauce instead, only if the ingredients are listed and it only contains tomato, garlic and onion, and doesn’t say “herbs” or “spices” (in which case it might contain oregano and/or basil, which won’t taste good here).
It is important that the oil reaches 375ºF. Ideally, you can check the oil’s temperature with a thermometer, but in the case that you don’t have one, simply try this ‘bread test’.
Drop a very small piece of bread into the oil. It should sizzle and float, and become deep golden in 30 seconds. If the bread becomes a deep golden color sooner than 30 seconds, the oil is too hot. If it takes longer, let it heat up more.
What to Serve with Malai Kofta
As with any Indian dish, pillowy, fluffy soft flatbreads are an Indian staple and truly heavenly when dipped into this fragrant, creamy sauce.
Here are two of my easy flatbread recipes for you to try:
More Delicious Indian Recipes
- 1/4 cup ghee or vegetable oil
- 2 1/2 cups finely chopped onion from 2 medium-large
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 10 whole green cardamom pods smashed with flat side of knife
- 1 1/2 cups tomato puree either puree diced tomato or use jarred passata - see note in post on tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup cashew or almond butter
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup whipping cream aka double cream, 33% or 35% milkfat
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp finely minced cilantro
- 225 grams 8 oz paneer OR full-fat ricotta cheese (see note in post)
- 2 cups mashed potato from about 1 large russet
- 1 tsp kosher salt *with no salt in paneer or potato cooking water; start with half the salt that if either paneer/potato was salted
- 2 tbsp finely chopped raisins or currants
- 2 tbsp finely chopped cashews or blanched almonds
- 1 tbsp packed finely minced cilantro
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- oil for frying
- Boil the potato for kofta until tender, then drain in colander and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, heat ghee over medium-low heat and cook onions until very soft and deep golden brown, about 25 minutes (don't rush this step, it's important for the flavour). Add ginger and garlic, and cook 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Stir in salt, cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon and cardamom pods and cook a minute more. Add tomato puree, nut butter and water; cook until oil starts to bubble up and shimmer on top. Stir in cream and sugar; simmer, covered, about 10 minutes then turn off the heat and let stand while you finish making the koftas.
- Prepare oil for frying by heating 2 inches of oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, grate or crumble the paneer into a large bowl (or just measure in the ricotta). Add remaining ingredients and stir very well to make sure the spices are evenly distributed. Form mixture into golfball-sized balls.
- Check to see that the oil has reached about 375ºF (see my tips above for how to check the oil's temperature without a thermometer). Carefully slide 5 or 6 koftas into the hot oil. Fry until deep golden brown, gently turning once using a slotted metal spoon (about 2 minutes total). Transfer koftas to paper towel-lined plate, and proceed with the next batch (for a total of about 4 batches).
- Over low heat, bring the sauce back up to a gentle simmer. Taste and add salt, if needed, then slide the fried koftas in and gently stir to coat. Top with cilantro.