Malai Kofta (Paneer Kofta Curry) is one of my most favourite Indian dishes. It’s literally the first thing I look for on an Indian restaurant menu. I spent weeks in India trying to find the perfect version followed by years of fine-tuning this recipe to make it the same at home.
What is Malai Kofta?
Malai Kofta is delicious, golden paneer dumplings in a creamy, spiced tomato-cashew curry.
Crumbled paneer (semi-firm Indian cottage cheese) is folded into mashed potato (optionally with chopped cashews, cilantro and raisins) and a bit of spice. The mixture is shaped into pillowy soft balls, called kofta. They get lightly fried in oil 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 cuisines across cultures, there are a few different versions of this delicious Indian dish.
Since there are two components to this dish, there are two ways in which malai kofta can differ, really – the sauce, and the dumplings.
The Paneer and Potato Kofta
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.
The Malai Kofta Sauce
When it comes to Malai Kofta sauce (it’s referred to as the Malai Kofta gravy in India), there is yet again a few different ways I’ve seen it prepared.
This one, with a tomato-cream sauce like an amazing butter chicken recipe, is divine.
But there’s another one out there with a sweet white gravy that is not as flavorful in comparison, and I am not a fan. It’s very rich and not very spiced, made mostly of malai clotted cream.
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 (an Indian flatbread like a flaky, layered cousin to naan).
Here’s What You Need
To make this easy Malai Kofta recipe, you really only need simple ingredients and tools.
Malai Kofta Ingredients
- Oil: Sautéing and frying are a breeze with this.
- Onions, Ginger, and Garlic: These give our sauce its flavorful base.
- Spices: Cumin powder, coriander and red chilli powder (or cayenne) add depth, making the dish distinctly earthy and warm.
- Tomato Puree: Lends a tangy, rich depth to the sauce.
- Almond Butter: This ingredient gives our sauce a nutty creaminess.
- Cream: Adds richness, making the dish totally luscious.
- Paneer and Potato: Grate paneer and combine with mashed potato to create the soft kofta balls.
- Raisins and Nuts: (Optional) Offer a hint of sweetness and a crunch. I leave them out sometimes to simplify for a weeknight.
Variations and Substitutions
There’s room to get creative with this recipe:
- Sauce Base: I like to use almond butter because it adds the traditional nutty flavor without the effort of grinding cashew nuts, but feel free to whiz some raw cashews in the blender or food processor instead for the true authentic flavor. For a super-smooth sauce, use an immersion blender to blend the gravy before you add the kofta.
- Vegan Alternatives: You can swap the paneer for firm tofu (plus a little extra salt) and the cream with coconut milk for a vegan version.
- Spice Level: Adjust the red chilli powder according to your heat preference.
- Kofta Filling: Feel free to experiment by adding veggies like peas or carrots to your koftas.
Grab these Tools
Having the right tools on hand makes the cooking process smoother:
- Pan: Specifically, a deep pan or skillet for the sauce and frying koftas.
- Dutch oven or heavy pot: for making the sauce.
- Grater: Ideal for getting the perfect consistency of paneer.
- Large Bowl: for mixing kofta ingredients.
How to Make Malai Kofta: An Easy Guide
Despite the restaurant-rivalling results, Malai Kofta is actually a pretty easy Indian curry to make.
Prepare Potatoes and Kofta Mixture:
White potatoes are boiled and mashed together with paneer cheese, then studded with crunchy, sweet bits to make for a pillowy, delicious kofta.
- To begin, peel the potato and boil until tender. Once done, drain and let it cool.
- In a large bowl, grate or crumble the paneer. Incorporate the mashed potato, raisins, nuts, spices, and seasonings. Ensure everything is well-mixed and the spices are evenly distributed.
How to Make Malai Kofta Gravy:
Onion, ginger, garlic and fragrant Indian spices are sauteed then simmered in a rich sauce made from tomato puree, heavy cream and nut butter.
- In a pan, heat oil or ghee over medium-low heat. Add onions and a teaspoon of salt. Aim for a deep golden brown, taking about 25 minutes. This step is very important for the sauce’s slightly-sweet flavor.
- Next, add ginger and garlic to the onions, cooking until aromatic.
- Introduce the spices – cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, and cardamom pods. Cook a bit more.
- Pour in the tomato puree, almond butter, cream, sugar, remaining salt, and water. Let the mixture simmer until the oil surfaces with a shimmer.
Shaping and Cooking the Koftas:
The potato and cheese mixture is rolled into small dumplings to be fried. I used to deep fry them, which is the traditional way, but I find it more messy, more greasy, and more finicky. If the potatoes have too much moisture, they’ll often fall apart while deep frying. Pan-frying is simpler and much easier and more forgiving.
- Using the paneer-potato mixture, shape into golf-ball-sized balls, making approximately 12.
- Heat some oil in a nonstick or cast iron pan. Place the koftas in, ensuring they’re spaced apart. Fry until they’re golden-brown on each side, working in batches if needed.
- Once fried, transfer the koftas to a paper towel to drain excess oil.
Combe the Kofta and Sauce:
- Reheat the gravy on low, bringing it to a gentle simmer. If necessary, adjust salt to taste.
- Gently place the fried koftas into the gravy, stirring lightly to coat them.
- Garnish with finely minced cilantro (aka coriander leaves) and some finely-chopped almonds or cashews, if you like. I like to make a little cilantro butter like the one I use on my almost-famous butter naan recipe for a really pretty drizzle at the end.
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.
(PS. Here are 35+ other ways to eat mashed potatoes if you’ve got a lot of leftovers!)
Paneer is widely available in the cheese section of most grocery stores now, and it’s also super easy to make paneer at home.
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.
(PS. Love paneer as much as I do? Try my Saag Paneer recipe next!)
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).
What to Serve with Malai Kofta
You could also serve it with regular or jeera rice (that’s basmati cooked with cumin seeds).
Make Ahead and Storage
Maximize your time and keep your Malai Kofta tasting fresh with these handy storage and prep tips.
- Prep Koftas: You can shape the koftas in advance and refrigerate them for up to 24 hours before frying or baking.
- Store Cooked Koftas: If you have leftover fried koftas, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- Freezing: Both the sauce and koftas can be frozen separately. Store them in airtight containers and they will keep well for up to a month. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight before reheating and combining.
- Reheat: Warm the sauce on low-medium heat, and once simmering, add the koftas. Allow them to heat thoroughly for a few minutes, ensuring they remain soft and retain moisture.
- Avoid Storing Combined: If possible, store the koftas and sauce separately. This prevents the koftas from becoming too soft if they sit in the sauce for an extended period. Combine them just before serving.
4 Common Mistakes People Make with Malai Kofta
1. Problem: Koftas Falling During Frying
- Solution: Ensure your pan is adequately heated. A well-heated pan helps to quickly sear the koftas, holding them together. If your kofta mixture feels too wet, consider adding a binding agent or draining any excess liquid.
2. Problem: Koftas Stick to the Pan and Break
- Solution: Don’t flip the koftas prematurely. Wait for them to form a golden-brown crust on the bottom, indicating they’re ready to be turned over.
3. Problem: Koftas are Soft and Difficult to Handle
- Solution: Firm them up by placing in the freezer for about 10 minutes. This brief chill helps the koftas retain their shape better when frying.
4. Problem: Koftas are Soggy or Oil-logged
- Solution: Make sure not just the pan, but also the oil is properly preheated. This ensures the koftas are fried crisply, without absorbing excess oil.
FAQ for Malai Kofta
Just skimming through? Here are some short answers to common questions.
- What is malai kofta made of?
Malai kofta is a popular North Indian dish consisting of deep-fried kofta balls made from paneer, potatoes, and various spices, served in a rich, creamy gravy (often tomato-based) flavored with spices, cream (malai), and sometimes ground nuts.
- What does kofta taste like?
The taste of kofta varies depending on its ingredients and spices used. Generally, it has a mildly spicy and savory flavor, with the taste of paneer and potatoes being prominent. The creamy gravy accompanying it is often rich, slightly sweet, and aromatic with spices.
- What is the meaning of malai kofta?
“Malai” in Hindi translates to “cream”, and “kofta” refers to a ball or dumpling. So, malai kofta essentially means “creamy kofta” or “kofta in a creamy sauce”.
- What does kofta mean in Indian?
“Kofta” in Indian cuisine refers to a ball or dumpling, typically made from ground meat or vegetables, mixed with spices, and either fried or cooked in a gravy. It has its roots in the Persian word “kufta”, which means “to grind”, referring to the ground ingredients used to make the ball.
- What can I use if I don’t have paneer?
Ricotta cheese is a good substitute, but ensure it’s drained well to remove excess moisture.
- Can I make this dish vegan?
Absolutely! Use a vegan cream substitute in the sauce, and for the kofta, replace paneer with firm tofu.
- Can I freeze the koftas for later use?
Yes, you can freeze the formed koftas on a tray and then transfer them to a ziplock bag once solid. They can be stored for up to a month.
- How can I make my sauce smoother?
After cooking the sauce, you can blend it and then strain it for a velvety smooth texture.
- Why did my koftas fall apart while frying?
The pan wasn’t hot enough, you tried to flip them too soon, or the mixture was too wet. Start with a test kofta. If it holds its shape, proceed with the rest. If you struggle to keep it intact, pop the koftas into the freezer for 10 minutes. Let the pan and oil thoroughly preheat before frying.
- Can I make Malai Kofta without deep frying?
Yes, you can shallow fry the koftas in a pan or even spray them with cooking spray and bake them in an oven or air fryer, though the texture might be slightly different.
More of My Indian Husband’s Favorite Recipes:
Adarsh loves this recipe and wants you to try his other favorites, too!
- Best Butter Chicken (one of the most favourite recipes on the website!)
- The recipe for Butter Naan that went totally viral on social media
- Adarsh’s Chicken Korma recipe that he says will change your life.
- Cozy Madras Lentils (the ultimate vegetarian comfort food)
- My mother-in-law’s secret recipe for Masoor Dal
- Indian Chai Tea the authentic way, just like they make it in India
Some of My Fav Indian Recipes:
- ¼ cup oil plus more for frying
- 2 ½ cups finely chopped onion from 2 medium-large
- 2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- ½ tsp cayenne powder or red chilli powder
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 10 whole green cardamom pods optional
- 1 ½ cups tomato puree either puree diced tomato or use jarred passata – see note in post on tomato sauce
- ¼ cup almond butter or finely-chopped cashews
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup whipping cream aka double cream, 33% or 35% milkfat
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp finely minced cilantro
- 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
- 2 tbsp finely chopped raisins or currants optional
- 2 tbsp finely chopped cashews or blanched almonds optional
- 1 tbsp packed finely minced cilantro optional
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp cayenne or red chilli powder
- oil for frying
- Boil the potato for kofta until tender, then drain in colander and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, heat oil over medium-low heat and cook onions until very soft and deep golden brown (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.
To Make Kofta
- Grate or crumble the paneer into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to ensure even distribution. Form into golfball-sized balls (you'll get about 12). Use oiled hands if the mixture is sticky, and place them in the freezer for 10 minutes if very soft.
- Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a nonstick or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add koftas in a single layer with enough space between each to easily be able to slide a spatula under them for flipping. You might have to work in batches. Brown the koftas on the underside until they lift easily with a spatula, then flip and brown on the other side. Transfer koftas to paper towel-lined plate, and proceed with the next batch.
- 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.
Last Updated on October 11, 2023 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD