A dish that comes straight from the royal kitchens of India, Malai Kofta is made with paneer (firm cottage cheese) and mashed potato 'koftas' served in an aromatic, smooth, and rich tomato and cashew nut sauce. A recipe that is worthy of a royal feast!
(This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated with detailed instructions & images)
What is Malai Kofta?
Over two centuries of Mughal rule in India led to a rich legacy of Mughlai food. Malai kofta is one of the many recipes that originated from the Mughlai kitchens and is said to have traces of Turkish and Persian influences as well.
Malai Kofta is a popular vegetarian dish made with ‘koftas’ – which are vegetarian meatballs made with crumbled paneer and grated or mashed potatoes. These balls are stuffed with a mixture of dried fruits and nuts, and deep-fried. The deep-fried koftas are then served in a rich sauce made with tomatoes, cream, and a mixture of aromatic spices. This is definitely a dish that lives up to its royal origins! Have the koftas with Indian Naan or Basmati Rice, and dine like the Mughals used to!
In this recipe, I’ll be sharing all my top tips to nail that perfect malai kofta and make it better than what you get at most Indian restaurants. Let's take a look.....
Why this recipe works
- Authentic recipe - made from scratch, no shortcuts!
- Better than the restaurant version
- Perfect for planning for an Indian party menu
List of Ingredients
Ingredients for Malai Kofta sauce (gravy)
- Cashews - Use unsalted raw cashews
- Onions - red or yellow onions, both work fine
- Tomatoes - can be substituted with tinned tomatoes
- Red chili powder - use Kashmiri chili powder for its deep red color and mild heat
- Turmeric powder
- Garam masala
- Ginger and garlic paste - Use either minced ginger and garlic or homemade or storebought ginger-garlic paste
- Cream - I use half-cream but full-fat cream works just as well
- Kasoori methi - I highly using Kasoori (or Kasuri) methi for bringing out that rich flavor of the sauce. I use it often when making curries such as butter chicken or paneer tikka masala.
- Honey - Honey is used to counter the tartness of the tomatoes, and gives the sauce a balance.
Ingredients for the Koftas
- Potatoes - Any variety of potatoes works well for this recipe
- Paneer - Use homemade or store-bought paneer. Use equal quantities of paneer and potatoes (I used 250 gms of each in this recipe)
- Corn starch - A little corn starch is added as a binder
- Baking soda - This is optional, use a small amount to make the koftas softer/spongier, especially if you are using an air fryer to fry the koftas
- Salt and pepper to season
Step-by-step recipe instructions
Malai kofta is made in two stages – the sauce and the koftas. In this recipe, we make the sauce is made first, then the koftas. Finally, when we serve, we plate up the koftas and then add the sauce over the koftas - not the other way round.
1. Prepare the malai kofta sauce
Start by heating a pot on the stovetop. Add butter or ghee, chopped onions, minced ginger and garlic (or ginger-garlic paste). Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes start to turn soft.
Add the cashews, followed by the spice powders and continue to cook.
Add 1/2 cup of water and cook for a few minutes. Crush the Kasuri methi leaves in your palm and add them, followed by garam masala. Cook for a couple of minutes more and turn off the heat.
Let the mixture cool down and blend in a blender until smooth.
Sieve the blended mixture back into the same pot, and add honey, cream, and salt to season. Sieving the sauce will make it smooth. Simmer for 5 minutes on low heat. Your silken smooth sauce for the koftas is ready! Keep aside for later.
2. Prepare the koftas
To prepare the koftas, boil the potatoes. Let the potatoes cool completely before using. This is an important step - cool the potatoes down, as we don't want any moisture escaping in the form of steam while shaping the Koftas.
In a large mixing bowl, grate the paneer. To this add mashed or grated potatoes, followed by corn starch, salt, and pepper powder. Mix well to form a smooth mixture with as few lumps as possible.
How to shape the koftas
Take a little potato-paneer mixture in your palm, form lemon-sized balls of the mixture, and make a hole in the center. Stuff the center with the dried fruit and nut mixture and shape it into a ball. Dust the balls in cornstarch and dust off excess cornstarch.
Deep fry the kofta balls in oil - make sure the oil is hot before you add the koftas - if you add the koftas to oil that isn't very hot, they could break apart. Fry the koftas evenly. After they turn golden-brown, keep them aside on a kitchen towel.
3. Assembling the malai kofta
To serve the koftas, place the koftas in a bowl, spoon over the sauce on top. I recommend this over the more popular method of simmering the koftas in the sauce before serving. By plating the koftas, and adding the sauce over them, the koftas will not break.
How to make Kofta in the Air Fryer
You can skip the deep frying and instead, air fry the koftas too. This is my new favorite way to avoid the extra calories. Air frying the koftas is so easy and less messy than deepfrying too. Here is how you do it:
Ingredients for air fryer koftas: Use all the ingredients listed for koftas, and add 1/4 tsp of baking soda. This will give more aeration to the koftas and help them become softer and spongier.
Roll the koftas as instructed in the step-by-step recipe above. Do not roll the koftas in the cornstarch mixture - this is needed only for deep-frying.
Place the koftas in the air fryer basket and air fry at 350 F for 10 minutes. Then increase the temperature to 400 F and air fry for 5 minutes. The koftas will be golden brown and perfectly cooked.
Potatoes should not be hot – Make sure you have cooled down the potatoes before you grate or mash them for the koftas. The mixture for the koftas should be cool to the touch, and any steam escaping from the potatoes will prevent the mixture from coming together.
Sieve the sauce – For that restaurant-quality malai kofta, sieve the sauce using a mesh sieve, after blending the cooked ingredients for the sauce. Then cook the smooth sauce further for a few minutes. This will result in silky-smooth sauce, just like the best restaurants serve up!
Add a touch of baking soda – This is an optional step, but I find that this helps in keeping the koftas soft and spongy. But be careful to add just a little bit, if you add too much, the mixture can disintegrate. Do add the baking soda if you are making the koftas in an Air Fryer - they will become nice and spongy in texture.
Pour sauce over koftas while serving – For restaurant-quality presentation, plate up the koftas in a serving bowl, and ladle the sauce over it. Many recipes instruct you to simmer the koftas in the gravy, but there is no reason why you should do that. By spooning the sauce/gravy over the koftas, you can be sure that the koftas will not break.
Frequently Asked Questions
Make sure that the paneer and potatoes are grated or mashed well, and that there is no moisture in the mixture. The potatoes should be cooled before handling. Using a little cornflour as the binding agent helps in preventing the koftas from breaking.
Yes, you can make the koftas in advance and freeze them. make the sauce/gravy before you plan to serve the malai kofta, and reheat the koftas and serve with the sauce on the day that you plan you serve the dish.
Koftas can be made vegan as well, with vegan substitutions for the paneer cheese and the dairy cream. Replace the paneer with extra-firm tofu and potatoes, and for the sauce, replace the dairy cream with cashew cream.
More Indian curry recipes
For the koftas:
- 250 grams paneer grated
- 250 grams potatoes grated or mashed
- 1 tablespoon corn-starch plus a little extra corn-starch for dusting the koftas
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- a pinch baking soda optional
- ½ tsp Ground black pepper
- ½ cup mixed raisins and cashew nuts can use pistachios or almond as well
For the malai kofta sauce:
- 3 Tomatoes or substitute with ¾ cup tinned tomatoes
- 2 onions
- ½ cup cashews Raw, unsalted
- 1 inch piece ginger grated
- 3 cloves garlic grated
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp Kashmiri red chili powder or use paprika powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 2 tbsp cream
- 1 tbsp Honey
- 1 tbsp kasuri methi dried fenugreek leaves
- salt to season
Prepare the malai kofta sauce
- Start by heating a pot / saucepan on the stovetop.
- Add butter or ghee, chopped onions, along with minced ginger and garlic (or ginger-garlic paste).
- Sauté until the onions are translucent. Don’t brown the onions, as this will alter the color of the sauce.
- Add the chopped tomatoes (or tinned tomatoes) and cook until the tomatoes start to turn soft.
- Add the cashews, followed by the spice powders and mix well. Add half a cup of water and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Crush the kasuri methi leaves in your palm and add them, followed by garam masala. Cook for a couple of minutes more and turn off the heat.
- Let the mixture cool down completely and blend in a blender until smooth.
- Using a fine mesh sieve, sieve the blended mixture back into the same pot, and add honey, cream and salt to season. Simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
- The sauce is now ready and can be kept aside for later.
Prepare the koftas
- To prepare the koftas, cut the potatoes into half and cook them in water on a saucepan on the stovetop until they are fork-tender (around 20 minutes on stovetop). For Instant Pot users, Pressure Cook the potatoes for 5 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of natural release.
- Make sure that the potatoes cool completely before using. Once they are cooled, peel and mash or grate the potatoes.
- In a large mixing bowl, grate the paneer. To this add mashed or grated potatoes, followed by corn starch, salt, and pepper powder. Mix well to form a smooth mixture with as few lumps as possible.
- To shape the koftas - take a little mixture in your palm, form lemon-sized balls of the mixture and make a hole in the center. Stuff the center with the dried fruit and nut mixture and shape into a ball.
Deep Fried Kofta
- Dust the balls in cornstarch and dust-off excess cornstarch.
- Deep fry the kofta balls in oil - make sure the oil is hot before you add the koftas - if you add the koftas to oil that isn't very hot, they could break apart. Fry the koftas evenly. After they turn golden-brown, keep them aside on a kitchen towel.
Air Fryer Kofta
- If air-frying, add 1/4 tsp of baking soda to the kofta mixture before shaping them. Roll out the balls as instructed above.
- Place the koftas in the air fryer basket and air fry at 350 F for 10 minutes. Then increase the temperature to 400 F and air fry for 5 minutes. The koftas will be golden brown and perfectly cooked.
Assemble the Malai Kofta
- To serve the koftas, place the koftas in a bowl, spoon over the sauce on top. I recommend this over the more popular method of simmering the koftas in the sauce before serving. By plating the koftas, and adding the sauce over them, the koftas will not break.
- Make sure that the paneer and potatoes are grated or mashed well, and that there is no moisture in the mixture. The potatoes should be cooled before you grate them.
- Using a little cornflour as the binding agent helps in preventing the koftas from breaking. Do not add too much - just add enough to make the mixture come together.
- Adding 1/4 tsp of baking soda to the kofta mixture will help the koftas stay spongy and soft especially when air-frying them