Thursday, May 29, 2014

Malai Kofta ( Cheese Balls in a Creamy Tomato Sauce )

I am going to share a traditional North-Indian dish, which I learnt from one of virtual friends, like many other dishes. Cooking was not really fun for me until I moved to a new place after getting married and started missing home-made food. So I started following recipes from my friends or sometimes I used to visit different blogs or communities in social networking sites. Those were the days of Orkut before Facebook was born and took over the reins.  Most of the recipes in my blog except few baking one were not successful at first trial but learnt them through trial and error method. I always face difficulties when I cook Indian curry to get the perfect texture and taste. Today's recipe is Malai Kofta Curry, one of our favorite North Indian vegetarian dishes. Whenever we don’t feel like having non-veg anymore, we order this dish. This can easily compete with similar non-veg curry like chicken Tikka or butter masala. In any birthday or anniversary party, it can join as the signature vegetarian dish along with your common chicken or mutton preparation and goes well with naan, paratha, pulao or simply with steamed rice.

Kofta is meatball or meatloaf, originated from Iran or other Middle Eastern countries. Probably it came to India during the rules by Muslim Kings. Usually kofta is made of minced or ground meat mixed with spices. But in India, you will find many vegetarian version of this kofta. Apart from Malai kofta, Lauki Kofta and Shahi Aloo Kofta are very popular. They are shaped like balls and are served with a rich and delicious sauce. The dry versions of koftas are considered to be kebabs. This delicious dish is made of Paneer / Indian cottage cheese, stuffed with nuts and raisins and finally cooked in a buttery, creamy sauce. Malai that is cream in English is the secret of richness for this royal dish. Apart from cream, sauce is made of tomatoes and cashew nuts.

 There is numerous ways to cook this rich yet elegant dish. Some sauces use onions while some other recipes use only vegetable dumplings for the kofta, excluding paneer. The sauce can be kept little whitish or spicy red colored. I tried both ways different times and I must say that they both come equally good.

Recipe of Malai Kofta Curry ( Cheese balls in a creamy tomato sauce ) : serves 5 to 6 

Ingredients :

For Kofta ( Cheese dumplings ), for 16 to 18 pieces
Paneer ( Homemade Indian cheese ) : 2 cups
Potato : 1 medium sized, boiled, peeled and mashed
Salt :
Dry Red chili : 1
Whole cumin seeds : 1 tablespoon
Flour : 1 spoon ( if required for binding the koftas )

Stuffing : 
Cashew : 1 tablespoon, chopped
Golden raisins : 1 tablespoon

Oil - for deep fry

For the Sauce :
Butter or Oil  : 5 to 6 tablespoons ( use 1-2 tablespoons more if you want your Malai kofta little oily ) 
Black Cardamom : 1 
Green Cardamom : 3
Cinnamon stick : 1.5 inch 
Cloves : 3 
Methi / Fenugreek seeds : 1 teaspoon 
Ginger paste : 1 tablespoon 
Garlic paste : 1 tablespoon 
Fresh Tomato puree : 3 cups 
Red chili powder : 1 teaspoon or to taste 
Cashew nuts : 2 tablespoon, (1 tablespoon paste + 1 tablespoon chopped )
Kasoori Methi (dried fenugreek leaves ) : 1 teaspoon 
Sugar : 1/2 tablespoon or to taste 
Garam Masala : 1 teaspoon 
Salt :
Milk : 1 cup 
Heavy Cream : 1/2 cup 

Method :

1. Dry roast the red chili and cumin seeds until the aroma comes up. Take it off and let it cool down first, then grind it to a coarse powder. Dry roasted spice powder is ready, set it aside. 

2. Take a small bowl, add chopped cashews and raisins. Mix it and keep it aside. 

3.Grate or scramble the fresh paneer, and add salt, dry roasted spice powder and the boiled potato. Mash them, till there is no lumps. The mixture should be tight but smooth. 

4. Add the flour,( if required ) and again combine well. Divide it into 16 to 18 portions and roll them into balls. 

5. Now dig the center of the ball, fill it with little bit of chopped cashew and 1 or 2 raisins. Gently roll it back into a ball and make sure the stuffing is well inside and there is no crack on the surface of the cheese ball. Otherwise, it will be broken or splutter when you deep fry them. 

6. Deep fry the cheese balls, over medium high heat till the color changes to golden brown. Drain it and place on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Cheese ball is ready, set it aside. ( Don't forget to taste it, they are yummy! You can serve the fried cheese balls as an appetizer too ) 

7. For The sauceTake a big thick bottomed pan, add the oil and heat it up. Add black cardamom, green cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp of sugar. Saute for a couple of minutes or until they get aromatic and the sugar melts and changes the color.  

8. Add the fenugreek seeds, once they sizzle add ginger-garlic paste. Saute until they get browned and fragrant. 

9. Add  red chili powder and keep stirring till oil starts to separate from the spice. Add the tomato puree and salt. Cook the mixture over medium heat until it becomes thick and oil again starts separating from the all sides of the pan. 

10. Now, if you want a smooth and creamy sauce, then switch off the gas. Let the sauce cool down, then blend the cooked sauce in a blender. Otherwise keep this stage. Now in the same pan, add 1 tablespoon oil and add the smooth sauce. 

11. Add the cashew paste. Mix it well and add 1 cup of milk. Add the crushed cashew nuts, kasoori methi, and sugar.  Add the fresh cream, mix it well. Cover the pan and simmer it over low flame for 10 to 15 minutes. 

12. Add the Koftas in the sauce in a single layer. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes more. Malai Kofta is ready to serve. Check seasoning, add salt or sugar if needed. Garnish with grated paneer / fresh cream and serve immediately with Pulav or Indian Flat bread. 

Related Recipes : 
1.Dum Aloo
2.Butter Chicken
3.Homemade Naan

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chanchra ( Kumro - Pui Shaak r Chanchra ) / Bengali Mishmash

Hope all my San Diego friends are doing fine in the midst of this scary hot and wild summer. Things have calmed down a bit after last two day’s fire and smoke all over the place. Wish it doesn’t come back in near future. I captured the pictures of my new post a few days back but couldn’t concentrate to write down the recipe. Also since this is the last month before summer vacation of my son’s school, we were busy with many field trip events. I usually try to post one recipe each week. If I skip one week, then it becomes a bit difficult to get back to the old track. 

Anyway, today I am going to share a Bengali recipe, so my non-bengali friends have to bear with several Bengali terms. The name of today’s dish is Chanchra / Kumro-Pui Shaak r Chanchra. Kumro means pumpkin and pui shak is commonly known as Vine Spinach. Its scientific name is Basella Alba. The other names of this category of spinach are red vine spinach, climbing spinach, creeping spinach and malabar spinach. Bengalis named this spinach Pui , puin or pohi. It is an edible vine, generally found in tropical Asia and Africa, where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable.  “Chanchra” is the word to describe the cooking style. It's a semi-dry curry, a medley of vegetables and green leaves that are cooked at low flame with minimum spices. It is widely popular as a side dish at any feast especially during lunch in any Bengali wedding ceremony.  I can still remember that in our childhoods, we used to eagerly wait for this dish while attending any Bengali Marriage. Things might have changed today when lunch/dinner menus in Bengali marriage are largely influenced by foods/cultures from other communities.

 The "Chanchra" is generally cooked with leafy vegetables, along with pumpkin, potato and with eggplants and few other vegetables. If you don't get malabar spinach, it's fine. Normal spinach or any other leafy vegetables ( shak ) will work here. You can make this dish in complete vegetarian way too with no fish head. But most of the time we add the fish head of hilsa, Rohu or katla and it tastes awesome. Here since we don't get these fishes regularly,  so it's not a common dish in my kitchen.
Fortunately last week we got Hilsha fish from local grocery shop here. So I didn't miss the chance to have some chanchra after a long time. I was not big vegetable lovers in my younger days, but as we grow old, being forced to change eating habits. This is a good healthy choice for the people who wants to add more fiber to their diet. 

The recipe is very simple. Even though it's a traditional dish, it still varies and from one home to another. I follow the way it used to be cooked at my home.  

Recipe of Pumpkin and Vine Spinach or Spinachwith Fish head ( chanchra / Kumro - Pui Shak r Chanchra ) : serves 4 to 5 

Ingredients :

Vine Spinach / Malabar spinach / Pohi / Pui Shaak: 3 to 4 cups (leaves along with stems, wash and chop them into 1 inch long pieces ) if you don't get vine spinach, use fresh spinach only
Pumpkin: 1 cup, peeled and cubed 
Potato: a small, peeled and cubed 

Flat beans (optional) : 1 cup, cut into 1-inch pieces 
Eggplant: 2 cups, cut into 1-inch pieces 
Radish: half cup, cut into small pieces 
Fish head: a big one ( preferably of Rahu, Katla or Hilsa fish )
Turmeric powder: 1/2 teaspoon 
Dry Red Chili: 1 or 2 
Panch Phoron(Indian five spices): 1 teaspoon 
Onion: 1 medium sized, finely chopped 
Garlic: 1 tablespoon paste 
Red chili powder: to taste 
Coriander powder: 1 teaspoon
Oil: 5 to 6 tablespoons

Method :

1. Wash and clean the fish head and sprinkle salt and turmeric on it. Rub it well and let it rest for 5 to 7 minutes. 

2. Heat oil in a wok, once oil is ready add the fish head. Fry it until the color changes to light brown on all sides. Once it is done, drain it and set it aside. 

3.  Add red dry red chili and panch phoron to the same oil. Once it starts to spatter, add the chopped onion. Saute it till it is soft and add the garlic paste. 

4. Stir it until raw smell goes off, add the cubed potato, chopped radish, and flat beans. Keep stirring and mix well everything together. Add coriander powder and red chili powder. 

5. Add pumpkin and eggplants. Stir it. Soon the vegetables will get well coated with spice and oil will start to separate from the spices. Add the fired fish head to the wok. Mix in and break the fish head into pieces with spatula. Add the spinach. Give some good stirs to mix it. Add salt and cover the wok with lid. 

6. Let it cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, the spinach and vegetable will release a lot of water and it will be cooked by that. Stir it occasionally to prevent burning at bottom. 

7. Once vegetables are well cooked and water dries up, and 
when oil separates and starts to leave from all the sides of the wok, check the seasoning. Serve hot with steamed rice. 

Note: You can cook the same dish without the fish head ( this is the vegetarian version ), or you can add a cup of shrimp, in the place of the fish head.