If malai kofta isn’t one of your top 5 Indian dishes you probably fall into one of these categories: you’ve never been to an Indian restaurant*, you’ve been vegan or lactose intolerant your whole life, you don’t like rich foods, or you’re really bad at ordering.
Kofta are meatballs, and there are variations of them from the Balkans and Middle East through South Asia. In this dish they are typically made with potatoes and paneer (a fresh farmer’s cheese). Malai simply means cream.
In this recipe we make easy swaps for those two non-vegan ingredients for the most delicious, richest tasting, better-than-restaurant style malai kofta. Sound like dream? Because, it is, and you should be eating it already!
*most Indian restaurants outside of India specialize in North Indian cuisine which is heavy in dairy with a lot of dishes using cream and/or ghee. South Indian cuisine, where you’ll find delicious dosa and uttapam, are typically more vegan friendly as it’s more traditional to use coconut milk and oil.
I didn’t grow up eating kofta of any kind. It wasn’t part of my grandmother’s regular repertoire and my parents shied away from deep frying food and I don’t recall any baked versions. The first time I had kofta was at age 11 when we spent several months living in India. While there we were invited over to eat in many peoples homes and I had a whole new world of Indian cuisine opened up to me.
It was also my first exposure to kofta and a black lentil dal I still dream about that must have been similar to dal makhani but it wasn’t quite that. Kofta quickly shot up to one of my favorite dishes, because, I mean, who wouldn’t love fried potato dumplings?! But going vegan meant no more malai kofta at restaurants. Which I am just fine with, because I can make it at home and let me tell you, it’s even better!
The kofta themselves are pretty easy to make vegan. While my mother-in-law makes hers with a potato, carrot, and green beans mixture, I wanted to capture the decadence of the paneer-potato dumpling. Tofu is a great substitute for paneer, it’s essentially made the same way as paneer. The curds are separated by adding an acid to the milk (whether soy or cow’s), and then strained and pressed.
To use tofu in the kofta, mash them up really well in your hands until it’s almost a smooth consistency and there are no large chunks. Pro-tip: take the tofu out of the fridge a bit before mashing otherwise your hands will get super cold!
Tofu is pretty bland on it’s own, so I add a bit of lemon juice for some acidity. Potatoes are boiled and mashed, and that’s what holds the dumplings together. Corn starch (or substitute arrowroot or tapioca starch) helps absorb some of the extra moisture from the tofu and potatoes and makes the balls nice and crispy when they fry (or bake).
Minced cilantro is added for flavor, and don’t forget to use the stems! There’s so much flavor in cilantro stems, and when they’re minced and added to the dumplings you won’t even notice them. Garam masala makes spicing the kofta a cinch, and I love the addition of juicy sweet green peas.
The kofta are most traditional when deep fried. The soft dumpling mixture holds its round shape really well and you have a crispy outside and soft, melt in your mouth interior. Deep frying is not complicated at all, but it does require a lot more babysitting. You have to work in batches and keep a close eye on the temperature of the oil.
I’m not going to lie, deep fried is my favorite way to enjoy them. Pan frying doesn’t quite do it for me. The dumplings are soft for panfrying and don’t end up with that nice even crispy outside. Plus they’re still absorbing oil, so you might as well be deep frying.
Baking uses less oil, with just a thin coating around the dumplings. The high heat is also able to crisp up the outside (albeit, less thin and crispy than frying) while the insides stay soft and creamy. Baking the kofta is also rather hands off, even if it takes about the same amount of time as frying the multiple batches. You can stick them in the oven and walk away, only returning once in to flip. I’ve included instructions both for deep frying and baking so you can decide for yourselves!
The golden cream sauce made to accompany the kofta is super easy and has the richest flavor. Onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, cashews, and spices are simmered until soft then blended until smooth.
Coconut milk is added for the cream. The mild coconut flavor is mostly overpowered by the tomato and spices, and it makes the sauce extra luscious. Malai (cream) is super rich, so to most closely substitute for it you can use only the cream from the can of coconut milk–the creamy and thick white stuff that separates to the top of the can.
It’s really good that way, and keeps the sauce nice and thick, but I’ll usually dump in the whole can because otherwise I end up wasting the coconut water. If you can find a can of coconut cream it’s perfect to use in this recipe. The sauce will cling to the kofta and thickly coat them when poured overtop to serve.
The final touch to the curry sauce is kasoori methi, or the dried leaves of fenugreek. It gives the curry that authentic and restaurant flavor. It’s one of my favorite ingredients and one you should pick up if you don’t have it already! But if you can’t find it, you can substitute some fenugreek seed (add it along with the rest of the spices at the beginning to simmer and soften). Fenugreek seeds have some of the same smell, but won’t replicate the flavor perfectly. It will still be excellent though.
This malai kofta has it all. A rich tasting, lusciously creamy curry sauce. Sneaky protein filled dumplings. It’s so delicious served with basmati rice or flatbread, with some roasted curried cauliflower on the side.
One way to easily sneak in a little extra vegetable into the recipe is to add half a pound of baby spinach or chopped spinach into the sauce once it’s blended along with the coconut milk and methi. You’ll need to turn the heat over medium-low, cover, and stir occasionally until the spinach cooks down to almost nothing, another 10 minutes.
Extra bonus is to throw in some plain roasted cauliflower at the very end (the curried cauliflower would be more strongly flavored than you’d want). Adding veggies right into the sauce makes this recipe a complete 1-dish meal.
I hope you guys love this recipe! It’s sure to impress anyone, with it’s restaurant quality flavors and presentation. If you’d like to serve it with bread an easy shortcut is to buy frozen paratha (check the ingredients but plain paratha is usually vegan) at an Indian grocery store. Maybe someday I’ll perfect my chapati recipe enough to feel comfortable sharing it :).
If you make my vegan malai kofta, please comment and rate the recipe below. I’d love to know what you think! As always, don’t forget to tag your recreations @thecuriouschickpea and #thecuriouschickpea on Instagram, or share with me on Facebook!
As a little aside, if anyone is on Pinterest, I’m finally on there and would love to connect with you!
- Keep the dumplings separated from the sauce until serving. Leftover dumplings are best reheated in the oven until crispy, then spooned over with sauce. If microwaving leftovers or putting sauce on in advance the baked kofta hold up a bit better.
- If you bake the kofta, they won’t look exactly like this. They don’t get the same beautiful, even golden color and usually collapse a little into more of a puck shape while baking. Still delicious though!
- If frying the kofta, using vegetable shortening will produce the least greasy feeling dumplings, as it turns solid as it cools. I’ll often use a mixture of canola oil and shortening. Just make sure to double check that the fat you use is stable to at least 400 ºF.
- The recipe isn’t spicy as written, with just a subtle hint of heat from the cayenne. Feel free to add more if you want it spicy, or add some dried Indian red chiles to the sauce after blending. Keep in mind that the coconut milk tempers the spice, softening any heat.
Loosely adapted from Indian Healthy Recipes As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Curry Tomato Cream Sauce
Loosely adapted from Indian Healthy Recipes
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.