Malai Kofta or paneer balls in creamy tomato sauce: From Turkey to India via Iran


Malai Kofta or paneer balls in creamy tomato sauce: From Turkey to India via Iran

A great UAE summer dish that is light and works perfectly with flatbreads



Malai Kofta or paneer balls in creamy tomato sauce: From Turkey to India via Iran
Leftover meat was rolled into balls and cooked in gravies and with time, this dish got a name – kefteded Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: The joy of dunking piping hot tandoori roti (flatbread) in a mildly sweet and spiced gravy - malai kofta, is unmatched, especially when you are hungry. Not to miss, the sweet and salty flavour combination makes malai kofta a popular dish in India, especially in the northern part. 

In North India, restaurants and even street-style eateries called dhabas serve this popular vegetarian dish, each with its own iteration of the recipe. However, ask any chef, and they will tell you the two key components that make or break an excellent malai kofta - the creaminess of potatoes and cottage cheese or paneer.

Malai kofta is fried balls of potato, cottage cheese, or paneer cooked in a rich and creamy base of onions and tomatoes. It has a mildly sweet tinge because of the presence of cashew nuts in the ingredient. However, many cooks and chefs also use a mix of seasonal vegetables to make the koftas.

Is Malai Kofta really Indian?

What you think is a popular North Indian dish has Middle Eastern origin. Yes, that’s right. According to celebrity Indian chef Ranveer Brar’s vlog posts, he explains how kofta is not an Indian dish. In fact, the concept of kofta, kefta, and kefteded are from the ‘Ottomon Turkish Empire’ (1258-1324) and also have Iranian roots. Earlier, leftover meat was rolled into balls and cooked in gravies and with time, this dish got a name – kefteded. With an increase in trade, kofte recipe travelled to the Indian subcontinent. Soon, a vegetarian adaption of the traditional meatball was made, which according to Brar, is a relatively recent innovation.

Kofta, kefta, and kefteded from Turkey. Image used for illustrative purpose only
Gulf News food found that the first appearance of kofta was in Middle Eastern cookbooks Image Credit: Shutterstock

Gulf News food found that the first appearance of kofta was in Middle Eastern cookbooks, according to cookbook author Ellen Brown, as she explains in, Meatballs, The ultimate book. She also writes about one of the earliest recipes that were made using ground lamb meatballs triple-glazed in a mixture of saffron and egg yolk.

Soon, this glazing technique spread to the West, where it is now referred to as gilding.

Coming back to the kofta arriving on the Indian subcontinent, according to cookbook author Alan Davidson, the first recorded recipe of nargisi kofta was served at the Mughal court -16th to mid-18th century.

Today, kofta can be found across the Indian subcontinent through Central Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans and even northern Africa. One such dish is Daoud Basha or Dawood Basha – a meatball or kofta stew with potatoes, peas and pomegranate molasses in some variations.

If all this talk of kofta has made you hungry, we have a vegetable kofta recipe for you by Chef Ayaz Qureshi. Click this link or try the classic Malai Kofta recipe.

Do you have any food stories to share with us? Do so on food@gulfnews.com

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