Flavors of India: Malai Kofta (Sauce + Vegan ‘Meat’balls) and Gluten-free Naan

by Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit) on March 22, 2012

For more on the flavors of India series, check out: Dhal Aloo Kofta, Aloo Palak, Gluten-free naan and Payasam Pudding.

When we have friends over for dinner I like to choose recipes that are made up of simple ingredients, will appeal to the masses, won’t dirty a bunch of dishes and; most importantly, can be made in stages to lower the potential of me becoming a total stress case 1 hour before everyone arrives. While planning for a recent dinner party with our neighbors, I racked my brain over what meal would meet all of these requirements when I remembered an India favorite… malai kofta.

The meal I chose was made up of 4 parts: vegan ‘meat’balls (aka kofta), sauce (aka malai), rice, and gluten-free naan.

I prepared the ‘meat’balls the night before and stored them in an airtight container in the fridge overnight. About 60 minutes before our friends were scheduled to arrive, I placed the balls on the counter to warm up and had the naan frying in the oven. The rice was in the rice cooker at 40 minutes and I was whipping up the sauce 10 minutes before the door bell rang.

Dinner was on the table seamlessly and I was as happy (and calm) as a clam. Are clams generally calm? I don’t know…

The malai kofta I made in India was made up of vegetables, milk, cheese, wonder bread, and the kofta were deep fried in oil. As we were making them I was creating a list of all the adjustments I planned to the recipe in order to make it healthier, vegan, and gluten-free.

In my rendition of this popular Indian meal, I replaced the milk with water, the bread with extra potato, then added a bit more veggies for good measure. The result was phenomenal; dairy-free malai kofta, and I hope you’ll think so too!

Healthy Malai Kofta

Vegan (option), Gluten free, Dairy free, Sugar free, Yeast free, Corn free, Grain free

Malai kofta is a dish usually reserved for special occasions. It’s made up of malai; a rich creamy sauce, and kofta; which means meatball. The majority of malai kofta served in India is vegetarian and is usually served with naan or rice.

Yield: ~6 cups

Servings: 6

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Ingredients

Malai (Sauce)

  • 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan rock salt
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1/2 cup diced tomato
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp ghee *see note
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 tsp fresh ginger, diced
  • 4 tsp fresh garlic, diced
  • 4 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsp garam masala
  • 4 tsp chaat masala
  • 1.5 to 2 cup water
  • 4 tbsp roughly ground cashews
  • 4 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped roughly

Directions

  1. Prepare kofta as per directions in this recipe.
  2. In a preheated frying pan, add vegetable oil, onion,salt, fennel seeds and turmeric. Sauté for 2 minutes on medium-high, stirring constantly. Add to a blender with tomatoes and water and process until smooth. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the same frying pan on medium-high. Add ghee, oil, cumin seeds, ginger, and garlic. Sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, masalas, water, paste, cilantro, reserved sauce and kofta. The longer you allow this to cook, the spicier it will become so just cook until the balls are heated.
  4. Serve with rice flour naan (recipe below) and rice.

note: to make vegan and dairy free, use grapeseed oil or coconut oil instead of ghee.

note2: ghee is made from dairy, but all lactose and casein is removed in the clarification process. Use your own personal judgement when opting for a dairy-free diet. If you’ve chosen to omit, use vegan suggestion above.

View nutrition facts

Gluten-free Naan

Gluten free, Dairy free, Corn free

I’ve been trying my hand at gluten-free naan every second day since I got home and this was the first one I was happy about. It’s not perfect and still needs to be worked on, but it’s darn good. The flavor is there, the shape is there, but the texture needs some attention. If anything, it reminds me a bit of bajra roti but then again, perhaps I’m being too critical.

Yield: 8 naan

Servings: 8

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Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup coconut milk (full fat)
  • 2 tsp demerara sugar
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast

Wet

  • 2 tsp grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp coconut vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 egg

Dry

  • 1 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 1/4 cup sweet rice flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground flax seed
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan rock salt
  • coconut oil for oiling the pan

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to the highest setting it will go (many conventional ovens have a maximum temperature of 550F)
  2. Oil a large cast iron pan with coconut oil and set aside.
  3. Combine warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Place in a warm place for 5 minutes.
  4. To prepare wet ingredients, blend water with vinegar and sunflower seeds. Pour into a small bowl and add oil and egg.
  5. Place dry ingredients in one bowl and whisk to combine.
  6. Combine wet to dry and add in yeast. Stir to mix, then roll into 6 balls. The dough will be sticky, just keep working with it, adding white rice flour to make it more pliable. Place dough balls on a plate and cover with plastic wrap.
  7. Place cast iron in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove, place 1 ball of dough on the side of the pan and press firmly into pan with floured fingers. Flatten out into a teardrop shape, about 1/4-inch thick. I was able to fit 2 balls on the pan at once. Return back to oven and cook for 3 minutes/side.
  8. One complete, wrap finished naan in a clean kitchen cloth. If you want it a bit softer, steam it for 10 seconds, or microwave in a glass container with the lid on for about 45 seconds per piece.
  9. Repeat with remaining dough, oiling the pan as necessary between each batch.

note: I haven’t tried to make these vegan, but you could attempt by using a flax egg (1 tbsp freshly ground flax mixed with 2 tbsp of warm water and set to rest for 5 minutes)

View nutrition info

To avoid your eyes from watering when cutting up onions, halve them, remove the skin, and place in a bowl of water for a couple of minutes before dicing. I guess it’s all the rage in India. The instructor couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it.

Previous to learning this new technique, I’d just  stick out my tongue while I chopped onions. Get your mouth real wide, just let your tongue hang out of your jaw! When I told the instructor this he thought I was joking. It does look rather ridiculous, but I swear it works!

Do you have any tricks on avoiding crying when cutting onions?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat

Wow Leanne, you are a genius! I’m sure the ladies that taught you how to make the traditional versions of these dishes would be impressed with how amazing yours are! And about the onions, I’ve heard of people actually wearing chopping goggles! I just investigated and it turns out there’s quite a market for them – on Amazon you can even get tortoise-print ones! http://www.amazon.com/RSVP-Tortoise-Goggles-Chopping-Slicing/dp/B002JXICSI

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Averie @ Averie Cooks

Not only are the recipes fabulous in your India posts, the colors, the history, the culture, the stories that I can just FEEL coming from the photos…it’s awesome. Thanks for sharing it all!

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Amber Shea @Almost Vegan

Since clams don’t have a central nervous system, I’d guess they’re always pretty calm! ;P

GF naan! Woot! Thank you for sharing!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

GREAT way to look at it, Amber!

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Alex@Spoonful of Sugar Free

Love all this :D And wow!!! Thanks for the onion tips! I always just suck it up….and it buuuurns

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katie @KatieDid

I’m in love with all of your pictures form India. Culture and food pictures are my absolute favorite kind to look at, and you captured the essence and feel of where you were so beautifully. I bet dinner was a big hit, these sound incredibleeee!!

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Brianne

Woo HOO! You figured out the naan! I’m proud of you. I can’t wait to try it.

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Lou

My contact lenses are my saviour when cutting onions… no tears! This recipe looks awesome…. it’s on my “To Cook” list as of now :)

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Nora @ Natural Noshing

Oh my goodness, I wish I was eating at your place! This whole meal looks incredible and is calling my name – the kofta, the sauce, the naan — ahh! MAKING THIS ASAP! Thank you for your (always) brilliant recipes!
BTW, love the tip on dicing onions, I will give that a go too :)

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lou

haha, thats pretty funny about how you cut onions, i’ve never tried it your way, i usually just suffer through the pain. cutting and soaking the onions is great. totally doing that next time.
i can’t wait to make this meal, looks delicious!

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Kathy

My grandmother likes to put a toothpick in her mouth, and my cousin swears on chewing gum when she cuts onions! :)

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janet @ the taste space

This looks awesome! I was looking for an impressive, yet easy, Indian meal for guests.. and I think I’ve hit the jackpot with this one. I love your thinking with all the prep in advance to make a company meal stress-free. :)

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Danielle

Naan must be one of the best breads in the world!

I’ve also heard the version with the chewing gum while cutting onions, but I have never tried. I always think that THIS onion won’t make me cry…

Has anyone noticed also that if you keep the onion in the fridge, it doesn’t make you cry as badly?

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Emma

I made this for a tapas party this weekend and it was a huge hit. I changed it up a bit, using a thicker version of the sauce as a dipping option on the side.

Thanks for another amazing recipe!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

I love the idea of serving these at a tapas party, Emma! I may just have to do the same :)

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janet @ the taste space

The koftas were a great hit! Mine were a bit soft, but I am not sure if it is because I cooked my veggies too long or because I subbed sweet potatoes for the potato…. unless they were supposed to be like that?

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Heather

I made this last night and it was incredible! I couldn’t get my meatballs to set up so I coated them in oil by coating my hands and them shaping the dough in patty form. They tasted great, just looked a little wierd. :) Thanks Leanne for all the great recipes. Your blog has been such a blessing. It’s usually the first one I turn too when I need a new recipe. I know everything will always taste great!

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