Wednesday, March 16, 2011

malai kofta

The best Indian dish I've ever had was in Bloomington, Indiana. I had it many times and could never remember what it was called - like this recurring mental block. After I moved, I still couldn't remember what it was, except that it was vegetarian, spicy, and in a creamy sauce which surrounded some kind of cylindrical dumpling.

Finally when I saw the words I remembered them: malai kofta. Kofta, as in meatball (albeit vegetarian in this case) - related to the Greek keftedes. Malai means it's a food introduced by the Mughal Empire's reign in India, when a Mongol dynasty introduced Persian ingredients and techniques (one of the many examples of Persia's tremendous impact on the history of cuisine).

If you google, there are a million different recipes for malai kofta. Like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, or gumbo, it's a meal that allows for great flexibility and variation while remaining recognizable as the thing in question. I looked around, aimed for something using ingredients I had (no time-savers that would make sense for an Indian household but would require a special trip for me, like gulab jamun boxed mix), and then cherrypicked and made the kofta from some of my favorite ingredients - smoked mashed potatoes, turnip greens and spinach, peppadews - and Mexican frying cheese, a recommended substitute for paneer.

One thing that surprised me is that none of the recipes I saw used egg as a binder for the kofta, and indeed mine turned out pretty fragile. Maybe paneer is a better binder; maybe I should add egg next time; I don't know. I'm not going to give you a full recipe because this is a first draft. It was delicious - especially the sauce, some of which I had last night as a dip for naan - but it's not there yet.

Malai kofta

The short version is that the sauce is rich and complex: it starts with a paste of ground onions, garlic, and ginger being cooked until dried, with additions of tomato puree, almond paste (which makes it creamy), and spices including Penzey's curry powder, curry leaves, fenugreek leaves, asafoetida, and arbol chiles.

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