Interpreting a Recipe: Malai Kofta From my Sister's Travels

April 16, 2009

Recessionista is the new BoHo, as funemployed is the new investmenet banker. As underground eateries become the new Babo/Momofuku, we all find ourselves around a new table. Here in San Francisco, they are larger tables, perhaps viking length tables in warehourses, carpets in our parents' houses, parks. We are not eating in pairs or three, but in tens and twenties.

We are all underground restaurants, cooking a select menu of 5-6 dishes for our masses. We are pooling resources to remain eaters of good food without waste and considerable spend. We remain people who can focus on how we feed ourselves and how we prefer to eat. Hopefully, some really interesting stuff is happening here.

A couple weeks ago my friends and I came together in a Herculean effort to fill a table with tomato lamb curry, chicken tikka masala, samosas, chicken vindaloo, vegetarian curries, chutneys, naan, and malai kofta. We brought what we had: nuggets of experience, bastions of inexperience, optimism, sweat, fenugreek leaves.

And we created a kitchen table. We got comments like, "fucking better than going to a restaurant". The food we devoured without looking up, but moreover, the time we spent together, the excitement that we had, the "holy shit, things are burning -- fuck it" attitude we shared made us owners of our meal.
I made Malai Kofta, a vegetarian "meatball" in tomato sauce. Basically, a ball of mashed potatoes and purple yams, filled with paneer, coconut and spices, which is then fried and topped with a sauce. The sauce contains poppy seeds, nuts, onion, tomatoes, and more spices.

My sister snatched this recipe through her travels in India. She tried to annotate and translate a woman's movement into metrics. But how do you translate handfuls and glassfuls into replicable instruction?

And how do I, by secondary association, visualize my movements? Blind-folded.

I attempted what few instructions my sister scribbled in her journal and document it here. I did this because, these scribblings are the drop off into which recipes by word of mouth or proxy can be lost.

There is so much to learn in time spent evoking this dish.

This recipe is a culmination of what I want out of a day. Running around to Indian bazaars, asking advice from strangers who are holding the same ingredient I am holding, banging things in my mortar and pestle, making cheese, shaping balls, guessing, editing, drinking, enlisting help. Watching a day come together in a succinct dish.

In the end, I loved my output. Though I stand by my interpretation of this recipe, it did come out like an appetizer rather than a main dish. The sauce was thick and chunky when it should've run thinner, like a marinara sauce.

I have made some changes to the original dish, so it is aspirational. If you have a day to putz in the kitchen, make these meatballs. In additional tasting like a win, they have a really delicate sweet flavor. Spices are not too strong, and moreso harmonious.

MALAI KOFTA (Makes a number of balls - easily serves 10) Total time - 6 hours, active time - 6 hours

SUMMARY Much of what you do you can do ahead of time. You make a set of pastes (onion, and white paste), you pound a small pot of spices, you boil potatoes and mash them, you peel tomatoes and puree them, you make cheese and place it in a bowl. Two hours before eating, you form little balls of potato with filled in side. You fry meatballs, make your sauce by cooking up some paste, and you end up with fried balls in sauce. The following diagram may be more helpful.

- 1/3 lb Paneer, crumbled - I made my own
- 1/4 c raisins or currants
- 1/2 raw cashews, chopped
- 3 T coconut milk
- 1/2 t "kinnamon", recipe follows
- 4 Medium russet potatoes
- 2 purple yams
- 1 Heaping T cornstarch
- water
- oil for frying
- 2 small onions, chopped
- 2 T raw cashews
- 2 T pumpkin seeds
- 2 T white poppyseeds (look in your local Indian bazaar, but I used black and it was just fine)
- 4 large tomatoes
- 1 t "kinnamon", recipe follows
- 1 T oil
- 1/2 t meat masala
- 1 t garam masala
- 1 large fenugreek leaf (very fragrant - look in your local Indian bazaar)
- 1 c milk
Kinnamon spice blend
- 2 parts cinnamon
- 2 part cardamon
- 1 part cloves
PART 1 - Building the components together. These can happen in no particular order. I have not numbered them so do them at your leisure. They are categorized as for the 'dumpling' or for the 'sauce'.

Potatoes - Dumpling
Peel potatoes and purple yam. Put in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil on the stove. Cover and reduce flame to low. Cook until tender, roughly 20-30 minutes. Depending on the size of your potato. Mash together with cornstarch and a splash of water! The texture should be such that you can form it into little amoebas or faces. Salt to taste.

Make the "kinnamon" spice blend - Dumpling
In a mortar and pestle, pound together the cinnamon, cardamon, and clove until finely ground. You will be eating this, so please do not leave chunks. Don't be lazy - or use a spice grinder.

Prepare the filling - Dumpling
Crumble the paneer in a bowl. Add currants/raisins, coconut milk, 1 t kinnamon, and cashews. Salt to taste.

Make Onion Paste - Sauce
Saute the onions in some clarified butter or oil on medium until soft. Pour a glass of 1/4 c water on top and continue to cook on medium covered for 10 minutes. Blend into a paste. If too thick, add some water.

Make White Paste
Boil some water. Pour over a boil containing poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, and cashews until just covered. Let sit half an hour.

Strain through a fine strainer and transfer to a mortar and pestle. Pound until it forms a paste. Alternatively you can use a blender, which is must faster, but less rewarding.

A white paste will form. (Yours will be whiter when you use the white poppy seeds.)

Tomato Puree - Sauce
Peel tomatoes by scoring them at the top and blanching for 30 seconds to a minute. Puree.

Part 2 - Shaping the Kofta

Take a golf ball size of potato, roll into a ball, and poke a hole in the middle. Fill with paneer mixture (just a bit or it will overflow). Close the ball up by pulling the potato over the filling.

Repeat until you are able to pawn it off on somebody else... Thanks to Kasia for making all these balls.

Part 3 - Getting ready to eat.

1. In a large wok, heat your onion paste in a bit of oil. Saute for 3-5 minutes on medium.

(Heat another wok full of oil for frying. Get to a sustained 350F.)

2. Add the white paste to the onion mixture and continue to saute. Add meat masala, garam masala and 1/2 t kinnamon. Crumble in the fenugreek leaf. Saute for 5 more minutes.

3. Pour in the tomato puree, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Fry the balls until crispy and brown on the outside.

5. Right before serving, pour the milk into the sauce, bring to a boil, simmer for a couple minutes.

To serve. Scoop some loveballs up can cover with the sauce! Trust me. These balls are delicious. They are extremely balanced in texture and flavor. Delicate balls, with a slightly sweet inside. Crispy, and extremely flavorful sauce.

ps. My hair smells like spices.


megan (brooklyn farmhouse) said...

that looks a) awesome b) fun to make. I love your diagram.

Dewi said...

I never had this, sounds absolutely delicious. Katie, you are gorgeous!

Arcenia said...

your cleavage distracts from the dish.

katie said...

jealously looks bad on you.

Adds ten pounds.

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Love collaborative cooking events like this. That kofta looks delightful!

OmniEater said...

These were delicious and beautiful to look well as fun to eat. Great post Katie!

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

I love your visual representation of the recipe!

fake TV said...

my hands are famous!!!

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