Recipe courtesy of Nidhi Jalan for Food Network Kitchen

Malai Kofta

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These vegetarian kofta (balls) are made up of mashed potatoes that are stuffed with a rich paneer-nut-dried fruit filling, then fried and served in a velvety cashew and malai (heavy cream) sauce. Wildly popular with both adults and children, it’s definitely something you make for a special occasion or a special person. A North Indian dish with roots in Mughlai cuisine, malai kofta is served in Punjabi restaurants all over the world. It goes wonderfully with naan or long-grain basmati rice.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr 30 min
  • Active: 1 hr 30 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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Ingredients

Kofta:

Sauce:

Serving:

Directions

Special equipment:
a deep-fry thermometer; a kitchen scale, optional
  1. For the kofta: Combine the mashed potatoes, cilantro, chiles, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Knead the mixture until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then set aside.
  2. Put the paneer in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the nuts and dried fruit and pulse until the fruit is coarsely chopped and the nuts are broken into small pieces. (If the paneer is not salted, add a pinch of salt.) Transfer the paneer mixture to a small bowl.
  3. Form the mashed potato mixture into 8 equal balls. (A kitchen scale isn’t necessary, but is helpful.) Form the paneer mixture into 8 equal balls. They don’t have to be perfectly shaped, but it is much easier to stuff the potato balls when the paneer mixture has been squished into little balls. 
  4. Hold a potato ball in the palm of your hand. Make an indentation with your thumb. Place a paneer ball into the concave hollow and push it in gently. Pinch the potato mixture around it and roll the potato ball in your palm to make a nice round shape. Repeat with the remaining potato and paneer balls. If the potato mixture is sticking to your hands and preventing you from rolling a smooth ball, dampen the palms of your hands with a little room-temperature water and continue rolling. 
  5. Place the besan in a shallow bowl. Gently roll the stuffed balls in the besan. Transfer the coated balls to a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the sauce. (It is easier to fry the balls when they have rested and are cold.)
  6. For the sauce: Meanwhile, stir together the garam masala, Kashmiri chili powder, coriander, turmeric and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl until combined. Set the spice mixture aside. 
  7. Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and let sizzle until they darken slightly, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to get a hint of color, 8 to 10 minutes. (Do not brown them, as that will affect the color of the sauce.) 
  8. Add the garlic, ginger and 1/2 teaspoon salt, mix well and cook, stirring often, until the raw smell goes away, about 2 minutes. Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until the oil comes out, about 5 minutes.
  9. Drain the cashews and add to the saucepan, then add the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Increase the heat to medium high and cook until the tomato mixture is thickened and pasty, about 7 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
  10. Meanwhile, fry the kofta. Fill a large Dutch oven halfway with vegetable oil, attach a deep-fry thermometer and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet and place a paper towel over the rack. Carefully add half the balls, one at a time, and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the balls to the prepared rack. Repeat with the remaining balls.
  11. Transfer the cooled sauce to a blender, add 1 cup water and process until smooth. Transfer the sauce back to the saucepan. Add the cream and kasoori methi if using and heat over medium heat until simmering. It should have the consistency of a smooth carrot soup; Add more water, if needed, and adjust the salt to taste. 
  12. Gently add the fried kofta and heat, occasionally shaking the pan gently to coat the balls, until hot, about 3 minutes.  
  13. For serving: Garnish with the garam masala and cilantro leaves. 

Cook’s Note

It’s very important to use soft paneer in this recipe. If you can make homemade paneer, there is absolutely nothing like it. For store-bought, I use Sach Paneer (available online) or Nanak's Malai Paneer (available at Whole Foods and other markets). Kashmiri chili powder is a bright red chili powder that has a lovely flavor and color. It has a little heat but is not super spicy. If you don’t have any, you can combine cayenne pepper and paprika in equal portions.   Kasoori methi is rather pungent and a small quantity goes a long way. It’s typically added at the end of cooking and adds a nice complexity to a dish. While not essential, I recommend trying it, if possible.

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