Have you ever had Malai Kofta? Although popular in Indian restaurants, this is not a dish I commonly see in the UK. Even across India, Malai Kofta is such a rich and indulgent dish that it is only eaten in restaurants, rather than being made at home. Made of a velvety smooth, rich and creamy gravy of tomatoes, cashews, and aromatic spices, the gravy warmly caresses crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside kofta made from potato and paneer (firm cheese).
A Mughlai dish in nature, Malai Kofta has all the hallmarks of Persian influence on Indian cuisine – luxurious, buttery, rich, creamy, and full of nuts. The warm aromatics of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg add an exquisite warmth and picante flavour that perfectly compliments the creamy richness.
It’s easily adaptable to be Vegan, whilst naturally being Gluten Free. Malai Kofta is also perfect for those who prefer milder curries, whilst still being full of flavour. Although the ingredients list can look long, don’t be intimidated – it’s an easy dish to master.
This dish will be sure to impress anyone and is better than even the best Indian restaurants.
Can you make Malai Kofta Vegan and Gluten Free?
Yes! Malai Kofta is naturally Vegetarian, Soy-Free and Gluten Free. It can easily be adapted into a Vegan friendly dish too.
To make the dish Vegan: Simply substitute double cream for cashew cream – which can be easily made by soaking and blending raw cashews – or with a good vegan cream of your choice. Additionally, replace the Paneer in both the Kofta and the Gravy with grated or mashed Extra-Firm Tofu. Bear in mind that the addition of tofu to this recipe to make it Vegan will mean that it is no longer Soy-Free.
To make this dish Nut Free: Leave out the cashews which are used in the gravy. Replace with extra diary or Vegan cream for a dash of richness.
Can you Oven Bake or Air Fry Malai Kofta?
Yes! Although I like to shallow fry my Kofta, they are also suitable for oven baking or air frying as a healthier, less oily option.
To bake Malai Kofta, preheat your oven to 200C. Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper and arrange the Kofta. Spray with neutral cooking oil and once the oven is hot, put them to cook for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn over halfway and spray with more oil if needed.
To air fry Malai Kofta, heat the air fryer to 180C and spray the fryer basket with neutral cooking oil. Once the air fryer has heated, arrange the Kofta in the basket and further spray with oil. Air fry for 10-15 minutes. Turn the kofta halfway through cooking and spray with more oil.
Tips for the best Malai Kofta
- Don’t overcook the potatoes. You want your potatoes to be just cooked – not completely falling apart. The proper texture of potatoes will affect the consistency of your final kofta.
- Make flatter kofta, not round. Flattening your kofta into disks (as in the pictures) rather than round balls not only makes them less likely to break, it also means that it’s easier to shallow fry, oven bake or air fry the kofta. Plus, it maximises crispiness!
- Coat your kofta in cornflour before frying. This gives the outer skin of the kofta an extra crispy crunchiness and also helps it hold together well in the oil.
- Sieve the gravy. No matter how powerful your blender is, I always recommend sieving the gravy for the best results. This will create a silky smooth and rich gravy that feels even better than at a restaurant.
- Top with extras! Malai Kofta tastes best when it’s topped with freshly chopped coriander, a liberal drizzle of cream, and crushed Kasuri Methi, and a little bit of grated paneer.
Variations on Malai Kofta
- Make in Vegan. This is really easy! As mentioned above, instead of using dairy cream replace with your favourite Vegan/Dairy Free cream. You can also use additional cashews in the gravy. Finally, replace the paneer in the Kofta and gravy with grated Extra-Firm Tofu. You have yourself delicious Malai Kofta.
- Make Palak Kofta instead. Not fancying a tomato-based gravy? No problem! Follow the kofta recipe below and add it to the Palak gravy from my Palak Paneer recipe.
- Add nuts and fruits to the Kofta. Personally, I prefer a Kofta that isn’t stuffed. However, you can add your choice of nuts and dried fruits to the middle of the kofta and wrap the potato and paneer mixture around it. Cashews and raisins work well and incorporate a little sweetness.
This Recipe Is …
- Vegetarian, Gluten Free, and Soy Free
- Easily adaptable to be Nut Free and Vegan
- Rich, creamy and indulgent
- Perfect to serve with Naan
- An authentic Punjabi Recipe
For more authentic Indian recipes, why not try Punjabi Samosa, an authentic recipe with homemade crispy flaky pastry stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas; Bhindi Masala, a simple dry curry made from Okra; Gulab Jamun, a festive sweet soaked in a cardamom scented sugar syrup; Chana Masala, a Vegan chickpea curry which is rich with aromatic spices, or Dal Tadka, a creamy and warming lentil dish topped with tempered spices.
For the Gravy:
- 1 tbsp Oil of choice
- 1 Medium Tej Patta (Indian Bay Leaf)
- 1 tsp Black Cumin (Shahi Jeera)
- 2 Green Cardamom
- 1 Black Cardamom
- 2 Cloves
- Small piece True Cinnamon
- 60g Onion, roughly chopped
- 1 Heaped tsp Ginger Garlic Paste
- 180g Fresh Tomato (2 Large), roughly chopped
- 20g Raw Cashews
- 200ml Water
For the Curry:
- 1.5 tbsp Butter (or Oil)
- 1/8 tsp Nutmeg Powder
- 3/4 tsp Chilli Powder
- 1/4 tsp Coriander Powder
- 1/4 tsp Turmeric Powder
- 100 -150ml Water
- 1/4 tsp Salt, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp Sugar
- 2 tsp Double Cream
- 1/4 tsp Garam Masala
- 1/2 tsp Kasuri Methi (Dried Fenugreek Leaves)
- 30g Paneer, grated
- 3 tsp Cream, to serve
- Fresh Coriander finely chopped, to serve
For the Kofta:
- 1 Large Potato, 160g, peeled
- 30g Paneer, grated
- 1/8 tsp Garam Masala
- Salt to taste
- 1/8 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/8 tsp Red Chilli Powder
- 1.5 tbsp Cornflour
- 1 tsp Almond Powder
- Extra Cornflour, for coating the kofta
- Oil, to deep fry the kofta
- To make the gravy, begin by frying the whole spices. Heat oil over medium heat in a large kadai or frying pan and once the oil is hot add all the whole spices - black cumin seeds, bay leaves, green cardamoms, black cardamom, cloves and a piece of cinnamon. Gently sauté and stir fry for a few seconds until aromatic, then add the onions. Once again sauté for around 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until gently softened. Then add the ginger garlic paste and stir constantly until the raw smell has faded. Immediately add the tomatoes and cook for around 2-3 minutes. Allow them to sweat and become slightly mushy. Finally add the raw cashews and water, and cook for 15 minutes, or until all the vegetables are completely soft.
- To make the kofta, while the gravy is cooking, add water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling add the potato and cook for around 15 minutes, or until knife soft but not breaking apart. Once done drain the potato and wait for it to cool.
- Blend the gravy. Once the gravy is cooked, cool the gravy down and take out the cinnamon, black and green cardamoms, cloves and bay leaves. We don't want to blend these*. Once the whole spices have been removed then blend it until smooth. Set aside.
- To cook the curry, firstly heat butter in the same kadai or frying pan you used to boil the gravy. Once the butter has melted add the ground spices - nutmeg powder, chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric powder. Cook for only a few seconds until fragrant - it is easy to burn the spices and create a bitter curry here. Then immediately begin to add the blended gravy. Pass it through a sieve for a smooth, creamy and uniform finish. Mix together well and add water to adjust the consistency along with salt, sugar and cream. Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer.
- To fry the kofta, begin to heat the oil in a large kadai or deep frying pan*. While waiting for the oil to heat, grate the boiled potato into a bowl. Make sure to squeeze out any moisture. Add all the other ingredients except the cornflour for coating and oil. Mix together well and form 4 patties. I prefer flatter kofta to round ones - they are more crispy and take less time to cook.
- Once the oil is hot (test it using the handle of a wooden spoon, it should slowly bubble - too cold and the kofta may break, and too hot they will burn and not heat through), gently roll the kofta in a little cornflour to coat. Shake off the excess and then carefully lower into the oil. Fry until crispy and deep golden brown on all sides. Drain on kitchen paper.
- To finish the curry, sprinkle garam masala on top. Crush kauri methi between your palms and add this to the pan too along with grated paneer. Stir through and serve immediately. Pour the gravy on-top of the freshly fried kofta and garnish with extra cream, grated paneer (optional) and fresh coriander. Alternatively, you can cook the kofta in the curry for 1 minute before serving - don't cook too long or the kofta can break.
*We use the whole spices to give flavour and aroma to the gravy. If we blend them, the flavour will be too strong. We want only a subtle hint. The black cumin (shahi jeera) are fine to be blended, and if you want a more intense hit you can also blend the green cardamoms.
*You can also bake the kofta or air-fry instead of deep frying. Read more here.
How to Serve Malai Kofta
Since Malai Kofta is a rich, creamy, and restaurant style North Indian dish, it pairs very well with extravagant sides like Garlic and Coriander Naan, Jeera Rice – or even both! Soft and fluffy naan is perfect for scooping up the thick, creamy gravy and crispy kofta, while the fragrance of Basmati compliments the aromatic tones of cardamom and cinnamon.