Some would describe kofta as the naturally vegetarian equivalent to meatballs, but that’s like calling a croissant a dinner roll. While there may be some common thread between the two, such a statement really misses the mark. Some kofta are actual meatballs, made of beef or lamb, appearing in the Middle East and Southeast Asia in myriad dishes. When we’re talking about malai kofta, however, these balls are more closely related to a fried potato dumpling, if you needed to make comparisons.
Though firmly categorized as restaurant food or a dish for special occasions, there’s no reason why you can’t take matters into your own hands. In fact, it’s necessary given that the name itself, malai, implies vast amounts of heavy cream, creating the rich curried sauce it’s best known for. Let’s not forget that it takes more than just pure potatoes to make a compelling kofta; namely, paneer adds subtly salty, cheesy taste, along with an extra dose of dairy.
As a fledgling food lover and young vegan, such delicacies tortured me to no end. Proudly offered as the height of meatless Indian cuisine, I could only wonder what I was missing while digging into my trustworthy order of masoor dal. The fact that it was just out of reach, vegetarian but not vegan, only added to the allure.
Making vegan malai kofta is a snap!
- A simple swap would be to replace the heavy cream with coconut milk in most conventional recipes. Personally, I prefer to make cashew cream, blending in some of the aromatics to create a consistent, natural harmony throughout the sauce.
- Tofu, the ultimate chameleon of the plant-based pantry, provides a seamless substitute for paneer while enhancing the nutritional profile overall. Down with cholesterol and up with protein!
- Ghee, AKA clarified butter, is often a signifier of wealth and luxury, but coconut oil provides all the same decadence. In truth, you could use any neutral oil such as avocado oil, rice bran oil, or grapeseed oil, and no one would be the wiser.
As with all of Indian cuisine, there’s plenty of room for interpretation with malai kofta.
Best known for having a luscious, silky sauce infused with subtly sweet spices and a savory tomato base, this version is considered Punjabi, drawing influence from neighboring Pakistan in true melting pot fashion. Glowing orange from the mixture of cream and tomatoes simmered together over low and slow heat, this is the malai kofta most people would expect to see.
Lesser known is the Mughlai version, comparatively colorless with a mild and subtly, naturally sweet white gravy. Raw cashews are a considerable component in the original version, making the transition over to a fully vegan cream sauce an easy task. Brilliantly seasoned without being overtly spicy, it’s a delicate balance of flavors that could genuinely pair well with anything. This is where the Sugimoto shiitake powder really shines, tempered along with the other spices to bloom with a depth of umami flavor.
Palak kofta, an unofficial variant, is a painless solution for eating your daily recommended allowance of greens. Spinach is the headliner, but the flavor comes from equally verdant fresh cilantro and mint. I like to simmer this one lightly to retain the bright green color, rather than turning up the heat to a full boil, quickly transforming the dish into a rather swampy concoction.
If malai kofta are dumplings, personally, I expect a filling
Granted, it’s less common and certainly not mandatory for a properly seasoned kofta, crispy on the outside and buttery on the inside, like a luscious bite of fried mashed potatoes, but I love the idea of adding a tiny little hidden morsel in the middle. Finely chopped donko shiitake caps and stems lend an impossibly meaty bite, while a scant measure of raisins contribute a sweetness so faint, so delicate, that you’d never pinpoint the source if no one told you. Yes, you can omit the raisins, and the filling entirely if must, but try it as written at least once. You might be pleasantly surprised if you’re open to the experience.
Restaurant-style malai kofta is an absurdly decadent entree, reserved only for special occasions. On the other hand, this homemade vegan version, enhanced with Sugimoto shiitake, makes any day seem like a special occasion.
- 2 Cups Peeled and Diced Potatoes, Steamed and Mashed
- 8 Ounces Extra-Firm Tofu, Mashed
- 4 Tablespoons Cornstarch, Divided
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro, Minced
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 2 Soaked Shiitake Mushrooms, Finely Minced
- 1 Tablespoon Raisins, Finely Minced
- 1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil (or 2 Cups Neutral Vegetable Oil, if Deep Frying)
- 1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
- 2 Cloves Garlic
- 1/2 Inch Fresh Ginger
- 1 Cup Water
- 1 Cup Raw Cashews
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
- 1 Dried Bay Leaf
- 3 Whole Cloves
- 2 Whole Pods Green Cardamom
- 1 Teaspoon Whole Fenugreek Seeds
- 1/2 Teaspoon Whole Mustard Seeds
- 1 Teaspoon Shiitake Powder
- 1 Teaspoon Kashmiri Chili Powder or Paprika
- 1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
- 1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 (14-Ounce) Can Tomato Puree or Diced Tomatoes, Blended*
- 1/2 Cup Water
To Garnish (Optional):
- 1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro
- To make the kofta, place the mashed potatoes and tofu in a large bowl. Use your hands to combine the two, squeezing and crushing the pieces to further mash any large chunks. If you'd like a really smooth kofta, puree the tofu in a blender first before adding it to the bowl. Incorporate 3 tablespoons of the cornstarch, cilantro, and salt, mixing well to create a thick but cohesive dough that will hold together when squeezed.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the minced shiitake and raisins. Scoop out about 3 tablespoons of potato dough per dumpling, creating an indent in the center with your fingers. Add about 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon of the shiitake and raisin filling, gently molding the dough around it, enclosing the filling in the middle and forming a smooth ball. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
- Gently coat the balls in the last tablespoon of cornstarch, carefully tapping off any excess. This is what will ensure a crispy finish. At this point, the kofta can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 2 - 3 days if preparing the dish in advance.
- Meanwhile, begin working on the cashew cream sauce. Place the onion, garlic, ginger, and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5 - 8 minutes, until the onion is translucent and the mixture is aromatic. Transfer to a blender along with the cashews and salt. Thoroughly puree on high speed, until completely smooth. Set aside.
- For the curry itself, add the coconut oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the bay leaf, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fenugreek, and mustard seeds. Saute for 2 - 3 minutes to temper the spices and bring out their full aroma. Add the shiitake powder, kashmiri chili, coriander, garam masala, and salt, cooking for 1 minute longer while constantly stirring.
- Add the tomato puree along with the water, stirring to combine. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low, simmering gently for about 15 minutes. Add in 1/2 - 3/4 of the cashew cream, to taste. Simmer for another 5 minutes for the flavors to meld.
- As the curry simmers, finish cooking the kofta.
- If air frying, coat the balls in melted coconut oil and arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined air fryer rack. Air fry at 370 degrees for 15 - 18 minutes until golden brown all over.
- If baking, bake in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes.
- Finally, for the most decadent option, you can fry them in 2 cups of neutral vegetable oil at 350 degrees for 6 - 8 minutes. Drain on a paper towel-lined cooling rack.
- To finish the dish, ladle the creamy curry sauce into individual dishes. Add 3 - 4 crispy koftas into each, and top with additional cashew cream and fresh cilantro, if desired. Serve immediately.
*To make a white curry, omit the tomatoes.
*To make a green (palak) curry, omit the tomatoes and add 1 cup fresh spinach, 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, and 2 tablespoons fresh mint into the puree.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 418Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 727mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 6gSugar: 8gProtein: 13g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.