This Restaurant-Style Vegan Malai Kofta recipe is the ultimate Indian comfort food. Picture crispy potato and chickpea dumplings in a creamy, spiced Indian gravy that will make your tastebuds sing! Soyfree. Glutenfree option. Nutfree option. Jump to Recipe
Malai Kofta! If you’re a fan of Indian cuisine and this isn’t one of your top 5 Indian dishes you probably just have not tried it yet.
What is Malai Kofta?
Malai Kofta is a special occasion dish that has its origins in northern India. Kofta are meatballs, and there are variations of them – some from the Balkans and the Middle East, others coming from South Asia. In India, they are typically vegetarian for malai kofta, made with potatoes and paneer cheese. Malai simply means cream. So creamy meatballs.
In this recipe, we make easy swaps for all non-vegan ingredients using potatoes and chickpeas as a base for the “meatballs” or “vegan kofta”. The result is the most delicious, richest tasting, better-than-restaurant style vegan malai kofta.
This vegan malai kofta will quickly shoot up to one of your favorite dishes. Malai (cream) gravy is super rich, so the best substitute for it is cashew cream. We also add some plant-based milk to the gravy but you can use water instead of the milk and it will still be quite creamy. The acidity in the tomatoes helps to balance the heat of the chili powder, ginger and cayenne. There are several variations of this recipe and you can make it with all the spices for a really elaborate process or shorten it like this one with a few spices and garam masala. This recipe is adapted from my cookbook version which is completely Nutfree in the book.
Vegan Malai Kofta (Indian dumplings in Tomato onion curry sauce)
For the kofta balls:
- 1/4 cup (50 g) shelled hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds or almond flour or chopped cashews (cashews and almonds are the most neutral flavor)
- 1 cup (210 g) heaping cup cubed potato or 1 cup grated/shredded potato, raw (1 medium potato)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 15 oz (430 g) can chickpeas or 1.5 cups cooked
- 1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt depends on if using salted or unsalted chickpeas, I used 3/4 tsp
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin preferably roasted or use Dry toasted whole cumin seeds
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne/indian red chili powder
- 3 Tbsp oat flour or regular flour Or other flour of choice
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch or other starch
- a generous pinch of baking soda
For the gravy - Makes 1.5 cups sauce
- 2 teaspoons safflower or other neutral oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
- 1 cup (160 g) chopped red onion
- 1 1-inch knob of ginger, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon Garam Masala
- 1 1/2 cups (225 g) chopped tomato fresh or canned
- 1/4 cup (30 g) raw cashews, See note for nut free
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water or unsweetened almond or other non dairy milk divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 g) dried fenugreek leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) sugar
- Cashew cream or coconut cream for garnish
- Kofta: Process the hemp seeds or nuts until you have a coarse meal. Add potato and process until coarse. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until most of the chickpeas have broken down but not a paste. (Without processor, use nut or seed flour and grated potato. Then mash chickpeas and mix)
- The potato will leak moisture in the mixture in some seconds making it easy to make smooth balls. Do not let the mixture sit for too long at this point. Add more flour or starch if the mixture is too moist. Add a tbsp nutritional yeast for cheesier flavor profile.
- Take 2 to 3 Tbsp of the mixture and make round or football shaped balls - 1.5 inch size or smaller so they cook through. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 F (218 C). For 20 minutes. Or pan fry in 1/2 inch oil for 5 to 6 minutes until golden on most sides.
- Gravy: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin, coriander, and bay leaf. Cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden on some edges, 2 minutes. Add the onion and ginger, and cook until golden, 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the turmeric, cayenne, and garam masala, and mix for a few seconds.
- Add the tomato, cashews, 1/4 cup water and salt and cook until the tomatoes are saucy, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Cool slightly, then transfer to a blender.
- Blend the mixture with 1/4 cup water, half the fenugreek leaves and sugar until smooth. Fold in the remaining fenugreek leaves. (This sauce is incredibly versatile, you can just add some chickpeas, baked tofu, roasted or par-cooked veggies and simmer and use!)
- Bring the blended sauce to a boil, add baked kofta balls and serve. Garnish with some cashew cream or other on dairy cream and cilantro. Serve with Naan or rice. To store: store the balls and sauce Separately until ready to serve.
- For a nut-free sauce, add pumpkin seeds or shelled hemp seeds instead of cashews or add 1/2 cup of coconut cream after blending the sauce.
- Chickpeas can make the kofta ball a bit crumbly. I also like them with half chickpea and half Extra firm tofu for sturdier balls. flavor wise I prefer some chickpea in there. Use vegan cheese shreds in the veggie balls for variation.
- I use raw potatoes in the balls as they get cooked easily. You can use pre-cooked/boiled potatoes as well. The balls with precooked will cook faster so you want to keep an eye on them so that they don’t overcook & dry out
- For a pretty restaurant-style presentation, garnish with some cashew cream or other non dairy cream and chopped cilantro.
Ingredients for Vegan Malai Kofta
- shelled hemp seeds or cashews, chickpeas, and potatoes form the base of our vegan koftas – a combination that results in vegan meatballs that are moist on the inside while holding together without problems, even once immersed in the sauce.
- The koftas are seasoned with a blend of garam masala, ground cumin and cayenne/red chili powder
- A small amount of oat flour or regular flour and cornstarch helps to bind the mixture together. A generous pinch of baking soda makes them light and crisp on the outside.
- Let’s sauté aromatics. Most Indian dishes rely on onions, garlic, and ginger and this one is no exception. Onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and bay leaf are sautéed to get the curry base started.
- Once you’ve sautéed the aromatics, it’s time to add ground spices – turmeric, cayenne, and garam masala. These need a short time only – just about 30 seconds to toast – as they’ll become very fragrant quickly. Turmeric makes for a gorgeous bright orange color.
- Tomatoes are added for body and acidity.
- Cashews make this gravy creamy without having to add any dairy. You can use macadamia nuts, or coconut cream or pumpkin seeds for nutfree
- The final touch to the curry sauce is kasoori methi or the dried leaves of fenugreek. It gives the curry that authentic restaurant flavor.
Tips and substitutions:
- My veganized version of Malai Kofta is certainly healthier than the traditional versions which are usually deep-fried! I give you instructions on how to bake your kofta instead. Or, if you are ok with a bit of oil, how to pan-fry them. You can obviously also deep-fry them if that’s your jam.
The cornstarch is what binds the kofta mixture. If you omit it, the dough might be too soft to hold together and the meatballs will turn mushy if you try to fry them. arrowroot powder or tapioca flour/starch could work.
For a nut-free sauce, add pumpkin seeds or add coconut cream later.
If you want a thinner texture, add more milk or water to the blender.
Add shredded jackfruit, tofu or vegan cheese shreds to the veggie balls for variation.
- For a pretty restaurant-style presentation, garnish with some cashew cream or other on dairy cream and chopped cilantro.
How to make Vegan Malai Kofta:
Make the kofta: Process the seeds or nuts until a coarse meal forms. Add potato and process until coarse. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until most of the chickpeas have broken down. (Without processor, use nut or seed flour and grated potato. Then mash chickpeas and mix). The potato will release some moisture into the mixture, making it easy to make smooth balls. Do not let the mixture sit for too long at this point or it will be too moist As the potatoes keep leaking moisture.
Take 2 to 3 Tbsp of the mixture and make round or football-shaped balls 1.5-inch size or smaller so they cook through evenly. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the koftas at 425 F for 20 minutes. Alternatively, pan-fry them in 1/2 inch oil for 5 to 6 minutes until golden on most sides
Make the gravy: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin, coriander, and bay leaf. Cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden on some edges, 2 minutes. Add the onion and ginger, and cook until golden, 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the turmeric, cayenne, and garam masala, and mix for a few seconds.
Add the tomato, cashews, 1/4 cup water, and salt and cook until the tomatoes are saucy, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Cool slightly, then transfer to a blender. Blend the mixture with 1/4 cup water until smooth
Bring to a boil, add kofta balls and serve. Garnish with some cashew cream or other on dairy cream and cilantro.
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