Friday, November 12, 2010

Great Balls of Cheese

I'm sporting a little bump on my tummy. Ok, it's more than a little bump. 

It's Thursday night and believe it or not, the bump was from Wednesday night's dinner. I ate way too much. Waaaaay too much. The word 'greed' comes to mind. And 'pig'.  

 I cooked a North Indian dish, Malai Kofta last night. I first ate this dish a couple of years ago while I was on holiday in North India with three of my friends. It was one of my best holidays ever. Great places, great company and great food ...

Great food, but very, very rich food. 

North Indian food is defined by their rich, fragrant sauces and complex blend of herbs and spices. Milk, yoghurt, fresh cream, paneer (cottage cheese), ghee, dry fruits and nuts ..these are key ingredients in North Indian cooking. Often, all these ingredients go into one dish. 

Now, that's about as rich as Oprah, right?  

Well, on my holiday, I was the only vegetarian in the group. But it isn't difficult to be vegetarian in India. In fact, some of the best food is vegetarian food. So my three buddies decided to be vegetarian for most of our the trip. 

Travelling makes people hungry. It seemed like we were eating all the time. We ate at almost-fancy hotel restaurants (almost was all we could afford), tiny dhabas (truck stops) along the highway, fast food joints (we just had to try the McDonalds India's Maharaja Burger!) and popular local eateries.         

Soon enough, Malai Kofta became a favourite dish of ours. We ordered it quite often; for almost every meal. 

What is it? Malai Kofta is a Moghul dish of stuffed vegetarian dumplings in a creamy, spicy, tomato-based sauce. The dumplings are made of potatoes, paneer, (sometimes peas and carrots) and stuffed with cashew nuts and raisins. They are deep-fried and then cooked in the creamy sauce. Oh, the sauce not only has fresh cream but also some paneer.

I don't know what made me crave this dish all of a sudden. Hmmmm.... 

Most North Indian restaurants have Malai Kofta on the menu and it would have been pretty easy to drive out and satisfy my craving. But I wanted to try my hand at it. After all, I had some paneer in the fridge and plenty of tomatoes. I had all the spices necessary and half a box of fresh cream. All I needed to get were some cashew nuts and raisins. 

The first step is making the dumplings. Every restaurant and even home cook would have their own version of the dish. Potatoes, paneer, raisins and cashew nuts are complusory ingredients in the dumplings but you can choose to omit the peas and carrots or add other ingredients like chillies to suit your taste.   

1.5 cups paneer
2 potatoes, boiled, peeled 
2-3 tbsp corn flour
1 tsp garam masala (Indian mixed spice) 
1/4 cup green peas, steamed till soft (optional)
1/4 cup carrots, cubed and steamed till soft (optional)

Mash the boiled potatoes with the paneer, peas and carrots till you get a smooth mixture. Add the garam masala, corn flour and salt and mix. Roll into balls (about the size of a golf ball, does not have to uniform in size). Press the balls hard so they don't disintegrate when you deep fry them. If necessary, add a bit more flour.

Heat oil (enough for deep frying) in a pan/wok and when hot, fry the koftas. Try frying one first, to see if it will hold together. Remove and set aside. 

Making the sauce takes a bit longer. First you have to make the sauce base and only then the sauce.

Sauce base
2 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 stick of cinnamon
3 cardamoms
1 tsp fenugreek
3 cups fresh tomato, cubed and pureed.
1 tsp chili powder (optional)
3 green chillies, chopped
1/2 cup melted ghee or butter
1/4 cup cream/whipping cream
1/4 cup milk


Heat ghee. Add the cinnamon, cardamom and fenugreek. When aromatic, add the garlic and ginger pastes and chili powder. Mix well. When the ghee separates add the tomato and chili.
Leave to simmer until the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan. The oil should rise on top and separate.  Add the milk and cream and when well mixed, turn off the heat.

At this stage, you are almost there. Hey... this was a dish for kings, so it should require some extra effort!

2-3 cups of the sauce base (if there is more left over, you can freeze it)
2 tbsp cashew nuts. Soak for 30 mins and grind into a paste
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup grated paneer
handful of coriander leaves

In a saucepan, heat the sauce base. Add the cashew paste and sugar and let it simmer, covered, for about 15 mins. Flame should be low. Add the dumplings, making sure to coat them with the sauce. Add half the grated paneer and let it simmer for 5 mins. Turn off the heat. Garnish with the remaining paneer and coriander leaves. 


  1. I made ricotta once and its somewhat similar. You can try it!


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