This Punjabi dish of mildly spiced vegetable balls in a creamy sauce is called malai sabzi kofta. It is among our favourite vegetarian dishes.

The two main things to get right in this dish are the texture, and to not overcook the dish.

The  koftas should have some texture. A smooth texture is important, but some small chunks are desirable. This is why I recommend coarsely mashing the soft vegetables with a fork, so you will find it easier to get the small chunks. Equally, the harder vegetables need to be just lightly chopped in the food processor. A texture like breadcrumbs is recommended. You must not end up with a purée. Again, some larger chunks improve the dish.

You must not overcook the koftas or the sauce. The vegetables in the koftas should be just cooked, and still keep some crunch, particularly any of the larger pieces. Overcook them and will become stodgy. This is a case of undercooked is better than overcooked. Overcooking the sauce in it’s early stages will give a slightly burnt flavour to the dish. Overcooking once you have added the cream or yoghurt will almost certainly lead to them splitting or curdling.

The vegetables listed below can be readily changed, with a few provisos. Firstly, there are always potatoes and chickpeas in this dish, and they are an important structural element. Secondly, thie coriander stems are a required element. Thirdly, the amount of chickpea flour you use will be determined by the moisture content of the selected vegetables. Be prepared to alter the amount as you make the koftas. You will need to use you judgement about how much to use so that the balls will stay together. Remember that the mixture will thicken slightly as it rests.

As to your choice of vegetables, it is really up to you, and what is in season. We have used many different types of vegetables in this dish with one exception – do not use tomato as there is a lot  in the sauce. Some chopped spinach added the mixture looks and tastes great. You can also substitute fruit for some of the vegetables. We have added a green banana or some green mango into the dish, which works superbly. Paneer is another wonderful ingredient to add.

Whatever your substitions, make sure you keep the quantities at about the same level as this recipe calls for.

If this dish is too mild for you, add some green chillies to the vegetables that go into the food processor. I would recommend not adding further chilli to the sauce, as it will unbalance the taste.

It is a time-consuming dish to make, especially with the overnight soaking of the chickpeas. Fortunately it isn’t too difficult to make, but it does need attention and patience.

We would typically serve this as a showcase dish, with just some plain rice or some roti. A kachumber works well to cut through the creaminess.

the recipe

prep 30 minutes
cook 2 hours
soak 12 hours
total 2 hours 30 minutes
servings 4 servings
calories 1019 kcal

ingredients

for the koftas

  • 1 cup chickpeas (kabuli channa)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fruit salts (see notes)
  • 2 potatoes peeled and finely diced
  • 1 sweet potato peeled and coarsely diced
  • ½ cauliflower coarsely chopped
  • 1 large stalk broccoli coarsely chopped
  • 50 g green beans coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots coarsely grated
  • ½ cup green peas
  • ½ cup coriander stalks finely chopped
  • ½ cup chickpea flour (besan) – plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds toasted and ground
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
  • ½ tsp black peppercorns ground
  • ¼ tsp garam masala
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (for frying)

for the sauce

to serve

  • 50 ml crème fraiche
  • 25 g ginger finely julienned

instructions

for the koftas

  1. Rinse chickpeas, then leave to soak at least overnight in five cups of water. Drain and rinse when ready.
  2. Place drained chickpeas in a large saucepan with fresh water, salt and fruit salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low, cover, and simmer for one hour, or until the chickpeas are tender. Scoop off any foam that may appear. Drain and set aside.
  3. Place the potato and sweet potato in a large pan of boiling salted water. Boil for 10 minutes, or until softened. Drain and set aside.
  4. Place chickpeas, potato and sweet potato in a large bowl and coarsely mash using a fork.

  5. Thoroughly wash and dry the remaining vegetables.

  6. Place cauliflower, broccoli and beans in a food processor, and chop to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add this mixture to the potato and chickpeas, along with the carrot, peas and coriander stems. Add the chickpea flour, ground coriander seeds, salt, Kashmiri chilli powder, ground black peppercorns and garam masala. Mix well. If the mixture is too thin, add some more chickpea flour. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 150C.

  8. Mix well, and then shape vegetable mixture into eight medium sized balls using your hands. Press into shape very firmly, so the balls are tightly packed. Lightly dust the koftas with chickpea flour whilst shaping them to keep them dry.

  9. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Test the heat of the oil by dropping a small piece of the mixture into it. Ideal temperature is when the piece sizzles and colours slowly. If it breaks, then add more chickpea flour to the mix. If it colours too quickly, reduce the temperature.
  10. Gently slide koftas into the hot oil, adding only as many as can fit in the pan with crowding.
  11. Fry for two or three minutes before turning. Turn only when one side is golden or else the koftas can break. Continue frying for another two minutes before turning again. Continue frying and turn several times for an even colour. Fry until the koftas are evenly crisp and golden – this will take around ten minutes per batch of koftas.. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on absorbent paper. Once drained, place on a baking tray and put into pre-heated oven for 30 minutes whilst you make the sauce.

for the sauce

  1. Grind the cashews and as little water as possible to a smooth paste. Set aside.
  2. Grind onion, green chilli, garlic and ginger and as little water as possible to a smooth paste. Set aside.
  3. Puree tomatoes to a fine consistency. Set aside.
  4. Heat a small frypan over medium heat, and add the cumin seeds, green and black cardamom pods, peppercorns, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon, caraway seeds, mace and fenugreek seeds. Toast for two minutes, or until spices darken and become aromatic. Remove from heat, and allow to cool a little. Transfer to a grinder, and grind to a smooth powder. Set aside.
  5. Heat the ghee in a wide pan over medium heat, and once hot add the onion paste. Sprinkle one teaspoon of salt over the paste, and fry for ten minutes, stirring often. The paste is cooked when the raw onion smell has gone, and the paste is becoming golden in colour.
  6. Add the tomato puree, mix well, and fry for two minutes.
  7. Add the ground spices, the bay leaves, curry leaves, Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric. Mix well, and fry this masala for two or three minutes until aromatic.
  8. Add the cashew paste, mix well and cook for another two minutes.
  9. Reduce the heat to low, and add the yoghurt one tablespoon at time, mixing well to combine before adding another spoonful. Fry this masala for ten minutes, stirring frequently, or until you see oil or ghee releasing from the sides. The masala will reduce to about half its original volume.
  10. Add one cup of water, mix well and simmer for ten minutes. The sauce is cooked when it has reduced slightly and you can see specks of oil floating on top. Check the seasoning and cautiously add salt, if required.
  11. Add the fenugreek leaves and garam masala and mix well.
  12. Add the cream, one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each spoonful to incorporate into the masala. Do not allow this masala to boil.
  13. Once cream is incorporated, add the ghee, and gently mix. Bring the sauce to a simmer, and then remove from the heat.

to serve

  1. Remove the koftas from the oven and place into a serving dish. Pour the sauce over the koftas.
  2. Garnish with a large dollop of crème fraiche, and sprinkle with the julienned ginger. Serve.

notes

  • The amount of chickpea flour to be used depends on the moisture content in the vegetables.
  • Paneer is often used in this dish. If you would like to use it, crumble 100g of fresh paneer into the potato and chickpea mixture before mashing. You may also like to garnish the dish with some grated paneer to serve.
  • The technique of adding the yoghurt or cream one spoonful at a time is to prevent splitting or curdling.
  • A vegan version of this can be made by using oil instead of ghee to cook, using coconut milk instead of the yoghurt, cream and crème fraiche. Do not add the final amount of ghee.
  • Fruit salt is marketed under the brand name Eno. It is best obtained from a pharmacist, as supermarkets seem to only stock flavoured variants. It can be substituted with baking soda - not baking powder.
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