Malai Kofta is one of my most favourite Indian dishes. Crumbled paneer 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.
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. The problem is, there are two distinct variations.
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, made mostly of cream (with a little bit of heartbreak and disappointment).
So I have a bit of a bipolar relationship with restaurant Malai Kofta. If I’m wailing into my paratha, I got the wrong one.
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. And here you have it! I also have a homemade paneer recipe coming next week (be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it).
It’s been pouring buckets since we arrived in San Francisco. Ironically, we came to escape Vancouver’s rain. At least it’s warm, and we’re nestled in a beautiful heritage neighbourhood with the hypnotic plunk-plunk of fat raindrops splashing on the fire escape.
We’ve found lots of fun indoor activities – I love staying in a place for an extended period, it really gives you the chance to live like a local, and takes the pressure off you to see everything at breakneck speed. I’m going to put together a guide to SF with kids for you. Yesterday we discovered another amazing farmer’s market. With beautiful, juicy, red-all-the-way-through local strawberries. In MARCH. We sat on the floor and ate them like animals.
This trip has also been a real change of pace for me. Usually I work 3 full days per week, which offers me a much-appreciated work-life balance, allowing me to focus on one task at a time, nurture my creativity, talk to adults, go to coffee shops, sneak in a yoga class, etc.
It’s been like a mommy immersion program, being on my own here with no friends, no play-dates, and with my husband working constantly. It’s not easy. In challenging moments (i.e. sleep-deprived, rain-drenched, just sat down to sip a steaming coffee in a warm cafe when baby wakes up screaming in his stroller, and two-year-old announces that he’s peeing his pants), I’m reminded that when you can’t change your circumstances, you must change your expectations.
For example, I’ll just go ahead and expect toilet-related exclamations (and possible expulsions) and general pandemonium. Accept the situations I cannot change. Laugh at the chaos. Pack extra sets of clothes for everyone. Shoot for serenity over frustration.
A few notes on the recipe: 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).
The Malai Kofta recipe I searched India for: delicious, golden mashed potato and paneer koftas with cashews and raisins, in a creamy, spiced tomato-cashew gravy.
- 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 (to test without a thermometer, drop in a small piece of bread. It should sizzle and float, and become deep golden in 30 seconds. If sooner, it's too hot. If it takes longer, let it heat up more). 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.