Malai Kofta - fried (or air-fried) seasonal vegetable patties with creamy tomato curry
Confession. I’m a recovering vegetarian. I absolutely love all things bean/grain/veggie burger/veggie ball /veggie patty related. My journey into vegetarianism began when I was 18 and leaving for college. With an interest in studying and teaching Sustainability, some influence from an amazing Carlos Santana concert, and a traumatic experience at KFC, the more I learned about our local food sheds, global food systems and factory farming, I couldn’t stomach the idea of supporting the short sightedness of factory farmed meat.
When I got to college, I didn’t know how to cook anything beyond scrambled eggs and burritos. My understanding of the vastness of vegetarian cuisine forever expanded the first time I had the Bean and Grain Burger from Sammy T’s. My sophomore year, my friend Keith got a job in the kitchen and slipped me their simple, but secret recipe before “googling it” was a thing. Having a one-meal-per-day plan, and not stoked about salad bar and spaghetti every night, I’d load up my to-go box with fresh veggies from the salad bar, chickpeas or black beans, and some rice and head home with an easy 3 meals of food.
The beauty of the Sammy T’s bean and grain burger is its versatility. Any bean, any grain, any nut butter (almond butter, peanut butter, tahini), and you can make some banging balls. (Here’s a link to their contra band recipe) So if quinoa and chickpeas are your thing, do it! If black beans and sweet potatoes are your thing, DO IT! I eventually learned you can skip the beans and grains all together when you use roasted root veggies with nut butters and nut flours.
Sorry for the diatribe; I always wondered why food journalists post their diary-like stories before getting to the actual recipe. I assumed it was for advertising purposes or something, but I assure you this is not. This is just my nostalgia for something that I’m very passionate about,veggie balls… and curry! Which leads us to this recipe:
Carolina Kofta ~ root vegetable malai kofta prep time 90 minutes Kofta is a term meaning meatball, or in this case, veggie ball. Malai refers to cream, because this tomato based curry sauce uses heavy whipping cream, or in our case, homemade Bulgarian yogurt.
Kofta 1 cup cubed sweet potato, lightly boiled 7 minutes until soft
1 cup shredded beets 1/8 cup shredded radish 1/8 cup shredded carrot 1/8 cup chopped green onion 1/8 cup chopped kale Two tablespoons minced ginger or one tablespoon ginger paste Two tablespoons coriander 1 teaspoon garam masala powder 1 tablespoon crushed cashews and pecans 1 tablespoon chopped raisins or dates. Pink salt to taste 1/8 cup tahini or almond butter (These two items are not necessary, but will make them extra puffy and crispy if you fry them) 2 tablespoon cornstarch ½ tablespoon baking powder Oil for frying ( optional )
Malai Curry Sauce – sometimes referred to as tomato gravy! 3 tablespoon coconut oil 1 cup chopped onion 1 ½ cup chopped or crushed tomatoes 1/8 cup cashews 3 cardamom pods ½ stick of cinnamon 3 cloves 3 bay leaves 1 tsp minced ginger 1 tsp minced garlic 1 teaspoon red chili powder 1 teaspoon turmeric 1 teaspoon garam masala 1 teaspoon coriander powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar ¾ cup water 1 teaspoon fenugreek leaves ( or we used some local dried sage) 4 tablespoons of cream or yogurt
For the balls…
Precook the cubed sweet potato first. Just seven minutes boiling usually makes the ¾ inch cubes smushy enough. Dry them and add all kofta ingredients ( except the cornstarch, baking powder and oil) into a mixing bowl. I find it easiest to mix and mash using my hands, but you can use a wooden spoon or potato masher to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients into a thick purple paste. Place this in the fridge to chill and firm up while preparing the creamy tomato sauce.
For the sauce… There are two parts to preparing this sauce. First we will make the tomato puree, then we will create the spice and creamy texture. The tomato puree, described first below, is done easiest with an immersion blender in a 2-4 quart sauce pot.
1) Heat one tablespoon of coconut oil to medium hot and add the cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon and slowly stir 1 minute until aromatic 2) Add in the chopped onions and saute until translucent, stirring gently 3) Add tomatoes, cashews and water and stir gently while bringing the solution to a gentle boil 4) Simmer until all components are mushy 5) Turn off heat and safely blend the solution with your immersion blender 6) Set this pot aside 7) Heat a 4 quart Dutch oven to medium hot with 3 tablespoons of coconut oil 8) Stir in bay leaves, sauté briefly for 1 minute 9) Add in minced ginger and garlic and sauté additional 3 minutes 10) Stir in chili powder, garam masala, coriander, turmeric, salt and sugar and mix very well (you are making a roux!) cook for about 3 minutes 11) Stir in the tomato puree. Place the lid on the dutch oven. Cook until the gravy begins to thicken and you can see oil separation on top. 10-15 minutes 12) Stir in the fenugreek or sage, salt if you like and reduce the heat to warm 13) Gently stir in ribbons of cream or yogurt and remove from heat. Leave covered while preparing the kofta balls to serve. 14) Fry (or air fry!) the balls. I actually think it's easiest to bake or air fry them, and since it uses less oil, you get a healthier, less greasy meal 15) Remove the kofta mix from the fridge. With your hands, mix in the cornstarch and baking powder. Roll the dough into 2” balls in your hands and place them on a lightly oiled non stick cooking sheet 16) If baking in the oven, space them 1-2” apart and bake at 400F for 10 minutes, then flip and cook an additional 5 minutes. If using an air fryer, place in a basket and lightly spray with cooking oil of choice. Cook for 10 min at 450F on air fry setting
17) If frying, bring 2” of oil up to about 400F – test one ball to make sure they hold together well frying. If they crumble, you can add more nut butter and cornstarch to bind them. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side and let cool on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the oil. 18) Once all of your balls are crispy, you are ready to serve. Pour the gravy into a serving dish and delicately space out the kofta balls. I like to sprinkle some chili powder, chopped greenery and a little powdered sage or fenugreek on top for aroma and presentation.
Best served with fragrant basmati rice or naan bread! Hope you enjoy! It’s a lot of work, but well worth it. Your home will smell amazing and your tummy and foodmates will rejoice.