Malai kofta, a Punjabi specialty of melt-in-your-mouth balls made with paneer (fresh Indian cheese) cooked in a rich cream and cashew sauce, is one of the most revered Indian dishes.When I was a kid, malai kofta was my favorite Indian dish and probably my favorite dish in any type of cuisine period. I eagerly anticipated my family's weekend trips to Indian restaurants for the lunch buffet, where I hoped and prayed that malai kofta was on the menu. My mom would occasionally make it on her own, but this was a rare occurence considering all of the work involved. The other day though, I made my first attempt at malai kofta based on a recipe video from Sanjeev Kapoor and was very impressed with the results!
The malai in malai kofta means cream, which is a main ingredient in the sauce for this dish, while kofta refers to the balls. Most malai kofta recipes that I have seen call for making the balls with a mix of paneer and mashed potatoes and/or other vegetables. Sanjeev Kapoor's recipe though calls for balls made just out of paneer, stuffed with a mixture of cashews, almonds and raisins. In addition, this sauce is made entirely with a cashew and cream base and no tomato whatsoever, contrary to many popular versions. The sauce is thus mild and sweet, with only a tiny note of heat coming from the green chillies which you can add more or less of depending how spicy you want the dish to be (traditionally, malai kofta is a very mild dish).
Now just a warning...this recipe, just like any recipe for malai kofta, is a very time-consuming one! This is definitely not a dish to make on a weeknight or when you're pressed for time. Save it for weekends and special occasions! All the more so because it is very rich and certainly not healthy, by any means! Malai kofta is one of those special dishes that should be enjoyed every once in a blue moon, in moderation. But if you're having a party and you make this delectable recipe and serve it with warm naan, chapatis or parathas and with a spicy pickle on the side, your guests will certainly appreciate the extra effort and won't be thinking about the extra calories ;-)
Adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana
Makes 6 servings
10-12 cashews, chopped
10-12 almonds, chopped
25-30 raisins (preferably golden)
500 grams paneer
2 tablespoons corn starch
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/4 cup water
Additional corn starch, for dusting
Canola oil, for frying
1. Toast the cashews, almonds and raisins until the nuts become golden. Set aside to cool.
2. Grate the paneer.
3. Mix the grated paneer, 2 tablespoons of corn starch, salt and cardamom powder in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup of water to bind the mixture together. Form lemon-size balls. Make a small indentation in the middle of each ball and place a bit of the nuts and raisins inside. Cover the indentation and re-form the balls. Roll in additional corn starch.
4. Heat a work or large frying pan with vegetable or canola oil. When oil is hot, fry the koftas a few at a time until slightly golden but not too dark. Once you are done frying all of the koftas, set them aside.
For malai sauce
2 large onions, chopped large
1 cup cashews
2-3 cups water
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 bay leaves
6-8 whole green cardamoms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger paste
4-6 green chillies, slit in half lengthwise
2-3 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon green cardamom powder
1/2 cup cream
Chopped fresh coriander, for garnish
1. Boil the onions in a large pot of water until they are tender. Drain and blend in a blender with a little bit of water to form a paste.
2. While the onions are boiling, place cashews along with 2-3 cups water in a food processor and blend well until a creamy paste forms.
3. Heat oil in a large pan. Add the bay leaves and whole green cardamoms and saute until slightly fragrant. Add the onion paste and saute for 2-3 minutes. Then add the minced garlic and ginger paste and cook for 3-4 minutes more.
4. Add the cashew paste. Cook on low heat for 6-8 minutes, until the mixture forms a lump and starts to ooze oil. At this point, add the slit green chillies.
5. Make the sauce by stirring in 2-3 cups of water (depending on how thick you want your sauce to be). Cook for 6-8 minutes, then add butter and sugar.
6. Taste and then add salt to taste, green cardamom powder and cream. Stir well and bring to a boil.
7. Take off of heat and then add the koftas to the sauce. Stir well and let rest for a few minutes so that the koftas absorb some of the sauce. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve warm, ideally with naan, chapatis or parathas.