Malai Kofta, the ultimate North Indian Comfort food! Crispy Paneer dumplings known as Kofta, served with a rich, creamy, luxurious & super delicious gravy. This Malai kofta curry brings Gourmet Indian flavors to your dinner table & can make your special meal times much exciting. Serve this classic vegetarian Indian dish with Butter Naan, Roti, Paratha, Plain steamed basmati or flavored rice like Cumin Rice, Ghee rice or Turmeric rice.
For a special or festive meal, extend your menu to some halwa and raita.
What is Malai Kofta?
Malai Kofta is a curried vegetarian dish consisting of crisp fried potato paneer koftas (fried balls) served with a creamy, smooth and rich sauce/ curry. The word Malai means cream in Hindi and Kofta are fried balls. So Malai kofta literally translates to koftas dunked in a creamy sauce.
Originally, Kofta belongs to a family of meatballs from the Central Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan Cuisines. Koftas come in different sizes & shapes – balls, patties and even cylindrical.
In India, the vegetarian version known as Malai kofta is hugely popular in the restaurants. There are also many other vegetarian versions like lauki kofta (bottle gourd kofta), mixed vegetable kofta and raw banana koftas.
There are 2 kinds of Malai kofta served in Indian restaurants. The first being the Mughlai style that’s white in color and the other is the koftas in Orange gravy. The key difference between the 2 is the use of tomatoes and spices like red chilli powder and turmeric. In this post I share the later one.
About This Recipe
This malai kofta is a delight for all your senses! It smells great, looks fantastic and tastes the best. The paneer koftas are crisp on the outside with a soft and mouth-melting light texture inside. The gravy is super delicious, brimming with flavor and absolutely finger-licking good.
The paneer kofta are made with mix of mashed/grated boiled potatoes, crumbled paneer, corn starch, spices and herbs. This mixture is shaped to small balls and deep fried. For a healthier option you may bake or air fry them.
Every restaurant has a different formula to make their kofta gravy. But in general a paste made with boiled onions, cashews and sometimes poppy seeds is used to make the white gravy.
My recipe is much simpler and makes use of tomatoes too as it makes a super perfect and delicious gravy similar to the paneer butter masala.
Onions and cashews impart natural sweetness while tomatoes lend a tang and spices infuse the best aromas to the gravy.
Many people feel making malai kofta at home is a very difficult task. But with proper planning and preparing ahead it is easy to make. It involves several preparation steps so it takes some time but is easy and not difficult.
For convenience, you may split the recipe and make the gravy the previous day or ahead. The day you want to serve the malai kofta, just prepare the koftas and heat the gravy.
Please read the Ingredients & substitutes and Pro Tips sections below.
How to Make Malai Kofta (Stepwise Photos)
1. Heat a pan with 1 tablespoon oil. Then add
- 3 green cardamoms
- ½ inch cinnamon piece
- 3 cloves
- 1 cup cubed onions (2 medium). Saute all of them until the onions turn light golden.
2. Then add 1½ cups chopped tomatoes (about 3 medium) and 15 cashewnuts. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Then pour ½ cup water and cook covered until all of them turn soft.
4. Once done all the onions and tomatoes will be mushy. Cool completely & transfer to a blender.
5. Blend it super smooth. Filter or strain the puree to a bowl. Keep this aside.
6. On a medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons oil or butter in a pan. Then add
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- ½ inch cinnamon piece (optional)
- 2 green cardamoms. (optional)
When they sizzle, add 1½ teaspoon ginger garlic paste and saute for 30 to 60 seconds. (until the raw smell goes away)
7. Turn down the flame to lowest and quickly stir in
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 to 1¼ teaspoon garam masala
- ¾ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Then immediately pour the tomato onion puree. Be careful and do not burn the spices. You can also do the other way like I did poured the puree first and then added the spice powders.
8. Mix everything well and saute for 3 to 4 mins. You don’t need to saute until the mixture leaves the pan. The raw smell of onions and tomatoes goes away since they are boiled first. Then used here.
9. Pour ¾ cup water and mix well. If the gravy looks too thick then pour another ¼ cup.
10. Cover and cook for about 10 to 14 minutes or until the gravy turns thick.
11. When the gravy is ready, it will be thicker and you will see little traces of oil on top.
12. Take 1 teaspoon kasuri methi to your palm and crush it in between both your palms. Add this and give a good mix. Taste test the gravy and add more salt if needed.
13. Lower the flame. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of cream and mix well. You can use whipping cream, heavy cream or cooking cream here. Malai gravy is ready. Set this aside to cool.
How to Make Kofta
14. Boil 4 medium (or 2 large potatoes) until just done but not mushy & soggy. I usually boil them in a steamer or pressure cooker for 2 whistles with little water. Cool them completely, peel the skin. Crumble or grate them. Ensure you don’t use mushy potatoes here.
15. To a mixing bowl add
- 1 heaped cup crumbled potatoes (or grated)
- 1 heaped cup crumbled paneer (or grated)
- 2½ tablespoons cornstarch (cornflour, do not add more)
- 1 teaspoon ginger paste
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 to 2 green chili (chopped, skip for kids)
- 2 tablespoons coriander leaves (chopped)
- ½ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
16. Add 1 tablespoon chopped cashews and 1 tablespoon raisins. Taste test and add more salt if needed.
17. Mix the ingredients and divide the mixture to 8 parts. Make them to smooth balls. The mixture should not be sticky here.
18. Heat oil in a deep fry pan. Check if the oil is hot enough by dropping a small portion of the mixture in hot oil. The ball has to rise without browning a lot. If the oil is not hot enough, the balls will sink in the oil, may disperse and stick up to the kadai.
19. Once the oil is hot, regulate the flame to medium heat. Slide in 1 ball to check the temperature and binding. If all goes well then slide the rest of the kofta balls and fry till golden and crisp. Do not fry them in extremely hot oil.
20. Remove the paneer koftas to a steel colander. Cool them.
Assemble Malai Kofta
1. Transfer the cooled malai gravy to a deep dish.
2. Just before serving, place the koftas in the gravy otherwise they will not remain crispy. Ensure the koftas and the gravy both are cool and not hot. Otherwise the koftas will become soft in no time.
3. Garnish with 1 tablespoon cream and coriander leaves. Serve with butter naan, roti or jeera rice.
My kids’ love malai kofta. So I make it a lot of times for special occasions. Here are some helpful tips from my experience
Boiling potatoes: Do not overcook the potatoes to the extent they turn soggy. Overcooked potatoes often make very soft koftas. For the koftas to be crisp, firm and yet soft inside, cook potatoes just until done.
Paneer: For this recipe you can use store bought or homemade paneer. Both work well here.
Cornflour: Also known as cornstarch is one of the key ingredient used to bind the kofta mixture well. It also gives a firm texture. Without corn flour, the koftas will turn out very soft inside and get mushy very quickly after they are added to the gravy. So do not skip this.
Stuffing: The paneer kofta I have shown in this post is made without stuffing. I have just added some raisins & cashews to the mixture. You can also use the same to stuff inside the koftas. Basically I find no difference in the taste.
Cashews add a creamy texture to the malai gravy without the need of too much cream in the dish. Any changes to the given quantities may alter the taste of the malai kofta curry.
Cream: I have made this recipe several times with whipping cream, heavy cream & cooking cream. You may use any of them.
Smooth gravy: If you do not have a powerful blender, filter (strain) the pureed onion tomatoes first and then add it to the pot for making gravy.
- Cornstarch can be substituted with arrow root powder or roasted gram flour/ besan.
- Cashews can be substituted with blanched and soaked almonds or with poppy seeds.
- Paneer can be substituted with extra firm tofu.
- Cream can be substituted with cashew cream.
- You can substitute potatoes with raw banana, yam or sweet potato. But note the koftas will not taste the same.
Most times I go the easiest way and serve malai kofta with plain basmati rice cooked with some whole spices & a tbsp of ghee. However it can also be served with Jeera rice, ghee rice, pulao or plain Paratha or naan.
Since malai kofta is on the heavier side, plain basmati rice also goes very well.
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
For malai kofta
- 1 heaped cup paneer crumbled (about 150 grams)
- 1 heaped cup potato boiled & crumbled (about 2 large)
- 2½ tablespoons corn flour (corn starch)
- 1 teaspoon ginger paste
- 2 tablespoons coriander leaves chopped finely
- salt as needed
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoons cashews chopped (optional)
- 1 tablespoons raisins (optional)
- Oil for deep frying
To saute & puree
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 cup onions cubed
- 1½ cup tomatoes cubed
- 15 cashew nuts
- 2 to 3 green cardamoms
- ½ inch cinnamon stick (optional)
- 3 cloves (optional)
- 2 tablespoons oil (or 2 tbsp butter)
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- ½ inch cinnamon stick (optional)
- 2 cardamoms (optional)
- 1½ teaspoons ginger garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust to taste)
- ¾ to 1¼ teaspoon garam masala (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder (ground coriander seeds)
- 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup water (¼ cup more if needed)
- 1 teaspoon kasuri methi (fenugreek leaves)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons cream
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. When the oil turns hot, add cardamoms, cloves & cinnamon.
- Then add onions and saute until they turn transparent or golden.
- Next add tomatoes & cashews. Saute for 2 to 3 mins. Pour half cup water & boil all the ingredients until soft & mushy.
- Turn off the stove and cool completely. Add to a blender jar, retain all the whole spices we used. Don't discard them. Blend this to a smooth puree. Strain the puree (filter) through a strainer to another bowl.
Make Kofta Curry
- Heat a pan with oil or butter. Add bay leaf, cinnamon and cardamoms (all spices are optional here). Saute for a minute.
- Add ginger garlic paste and saute on a low heat till the raw smell goes away. This takes about 2 to 3 mins.
- Quickly stir in chili powder, garam masala, coriander powder,salt and sugar. Pour the onion tomato puree. Mix it well.
- Saute for 3 to 4 mins for the raw smell of chili powder to go away.
- Pour ½ to ¾ cup water to make a gravy. Cook covered until the gravy thickens and traces of oil are seen on top. The raw smell of the ingredients should have gone.
- Add kasuri methi and taste test. If needed add more salt.
- Regulate the flame to low and add cream. Stir and turn off the heat. Set this aside.
How to Make Malai Kofta
- To make malai kofta, boil potatoes just until fork tender and not mushy.
- Crumble them and add to a mixing bowl along with crumbled paneer, ginger paste, corn flour, salt, garam masala and chopped coriander leaves.
- Also add raisins and cashews. Or you can stuff them in the koftas.
- Mix everything well and divide the dough to 8 equal parts. Roll them to balls.
- If you prefer, you can also flatten each ball. Place the cashews and raisins in the center and seal.
- Heat oil in a kadai for deep frying. Check if the oil is hot enough by sliding in a small portion of the malai kofta mixture.
- It has to rise without browning a lot. This is the right temperature.
- Test the dough: Wait for the oil to heat up. Pinch off 1 teaspoon of the kofta mixture and roll to a small ball. Slide it to the hot oil to ensure the mixture is right and does not disintegrate.
- If the ball does not disintegrate or disperse in oil, then go ahead with the next step. If the ball disintegrates, add more corn starch to fix it (refer notes).
- Slide the koftas one by one gently to the hot oil.
- Deep fry on a medium flame until crisp and golden. Remove them to a steel colander or plate.
- Mushy potatoes are not suitable to make malai kofta. Too much moisture in your potatoes will disintegrate your koftas. Cook the potatoes just until fork tender.
- If you add the kofta balls to oil that is not hot enough, the balls will disperse in the oil. So ensure the oil is hot enough before you fry the first ball.
- Paneer: You can use store bought paneer or homemade. If using homemade make sure it is completely dry and not soggy. You don’t need to set the paneer after straining and hanging it. I usually put the whole pack of hung paneer uncovered (along with the muslin/ cheese cloth) in the fridge, overnight. By the next day most of the moisture would have gone and it turns out perfect.
To substitute paneer, use extra firm tofu. You may need to add more corn starch if your kofta mixture is sticky.
- Potatoes: Make sure you boil the potatoes only until fork tender and not mushy or too soft. Overcooked potatoes retain excess moisture & that’s not good for koftas. If your potatoes are mushy with lots of moisture you may use more corn starch but that can alter the texture of your koftas. So make sure they are boiled whole just until fork tender.
- Corn Starch: Corn starch is the same as white corn flour. It helps the kofta ingredients bind together. Arrow root powder or tapioca flour works well too but make sure you use only little oil to fry them.
- Cashews: Cashews are used in both kofta balls and even in the curry. They add richness, creaminess and milky aroma to the curry. I have used cashews to cut down the amount of cream and that also helps to cut down the calories and makes for a healthier and lighter dish.
- To substitute cashews, you may use cashew meal, almond meal, cashew or almond butter. For a nut-free option, use sunflower seeds, white poppy seeds or magaz seeds (melon seeds).
- Cream: If you want you may skip the cream from the gravy but without cream/malai the dish won’t be malai kofta. But you can still make it equally creamy with the addition of more cashews.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
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I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills.
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