Two of my favorite Indian vegetarian dishes are malai kofta and sabz kofta; malai kofta is a vegetable kofta made with cheese mixed with mashed or grated vegetables and bread crumbs, and sabz are kofta made from grated vegetables mixed with garbanzo flour, also known as besan. (Kofta are little balls of meat, cheese or vegetables that are either pan fried or deep fried and are a favorite dish in Northern India.) Since until recently, I always lived near a good Indian restaurant where I could order these dishes often, or eat them from their buffet, I have never bothered to make them at home.
However, being deprived of my vegetarian kofta after a time is enough to send me to the kitchen. I determined that I liked sabz kofta just a bit better, so I decided to try my hand at them first.
I sought out recipes, and ended up using one from Neelam Batra’s The Indian Vegetarian: Simple Recipes for Today’s Kitchen. At least, I used her recipe for the kofta, while for the sauce, I modified one from Kaushi Bhatia’s Favourite Dishes of India, which is a book that is published in India, for Indians who speak and read English. I have a quite a few books like that, and have found that they tend to be great resources for very good, very authentic recipes that often represent more of the home style cooking of India. The curry sauce recipe I used was one meant to go with malai kofta, which looked like it would taste the way I had eaten sabz kofta at my Pakistani friends’ homes.
I discovered that while the general shape of the sabz kofta recipe was a simple one, the instructions were not clear enough for me to know how to make the dough the correct consistency. Really good sabz kofta are very tender, so much so that they very nearly fall apart when you bite into them, with just the barest crisp to the crust that gives away to a steaming and somewhat crumbly, moist interior. I ended up using too much besan to make the dough stiffer to hold it together, because I was unsure about how much to use, and the description in Batra’s recipe was not specific enough to guide me to make the dough the correct consistency. Also–there are no photographs in her cookbook to guide the sabz kofta novice in getting the texture of the dough correct, so really, unless you have seen them made on television or were taught by the side of a friend or relative, you would be lost reading this recipe.
I want to make this clear–I in no way am dissing Batra’s book or her recipes; I adore the book and used it often when I was learning Indian food, and in fact, this is the first recipe I have ever had come out less than amazing. (I am also sad to see that it has gone out of print.) And it is worth mentioning that even though I thought that the kofta were leaden and somewhat tough, Zak, Morganna and Donny all really enjoyed them, so maybe it was just me. Maybe my expectations were too high. (Or, maybe, the chef at Shere E Punjabi was just great at making sabz kofta–always a possiblity, because his were nearly always light and tender, perfectly spiced and steaming inside.
However, the next time I make these–and there will be a next time, for I really do have a passion for these kofta–I will make certain to not add any extra besan to the dough to make it less soft. (Batra’s words were this–“if the mixture is too soft, add a little extra garbanzo flour.” however, of course, she gives no description of how to determine exactly what “too soft” meant. This is a problem if you have never made these delicious little critters before.)
But, they were fun to make and the sauce was simple as well.The recipe for the kofta made enough that I could serve half the batch and freeze the other batch to be served at a later date. That necessitates that I just make up some sauce some night, thaw the kofta, and toss them in the sauce for a simmer and with some basmati in the rice cooker and maybe some palak paneer–supper is on the table in no time at all.
So, for now, here is my adaptation of Neelam Batra’s recipe for sabz kofta, combined with a slightly revised version of Kaushi Bhatia’s rich curry sauce.
Sabz Kofta in Rich Curry Sauce
Ingredients for Kofta:
1 1/2 cups grated peeled russet potatoes (I used the food processor for all of the grating)
1 cup grated cauliflower
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup grated onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons peeled and minced ginger
4-8 fresh Thai green bird chiles, minced–to taste
1 1/2-2 cups besan (garbanzo bean flour)
2 tablespoons freshly ground coriander
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
peanut oil for deep frying
Method for Kofta:
Mix together all ingredients down to the chiles in a medium sized bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, mix the rest of the dry ingredients, then sprinkle these over the vegetable ingredients in the first bowl. Knead together into a rough dough. If you think that the dough will not hold together, add a little more besan, but I would say do not add more than about 1/4 cup or so more. (I added more than that, and the texture of the cooked kofta suffered.)
Form into 1 1/2 inch balls–I used a cookie dough scoop and my hands to do this.
Heat oil in a wok or karahi or deep pot, until it is between 350-375 degrees. To test to see if the oil is hot enough drop a tiny bit of the mixture into the oil and if it bubbles and rises to the top, then the oil is ready. Deep fry the koftas, a handful at a time, until they are brown and crispy. Remove with a strainer-basket or a slotted spoon, and allow to drain on paper towels. You can keep them warm in an oven heated to 200 degrees while you make the curry sauce.
Ingredients for Curry Sauce:
2 teaspoons oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
6 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons cashew butter
1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
salt to taste
1/2 cup rich yogurt
1/3 cup cream
large handful chopped cilantro
Method for Curry Sauce:
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan–I used enamelled cast iron for this. Cook the onion, stirring, until it is a medium dark reddish brown, and then scrape it out of the pan into the bowl of a grinder or a blender or food processor. Add the ginger, garlic and spices if you are using a grinder like the Sumeet, if you are using a processor or blender, grind the spices with a coffee grinder first, then add them to the bowl of the appliance. Grind into a thick paste.
Reheat pan, pour paste into the pan and stir until well heated and fragrant. Add cashew butter, and stir until combined, then add tomatoes and water. Turn down heat and cook, simmering until the curry sauce thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk the yogurt and cream together, then add to the sauce, stirring to combine. Taste for salt and correct seasoning. (You can prepare the sauce to this point, then hold it warm for about four hours, or cool it and keep it in the fridge until needed–the flavors will only develop and become more complex the longer you allow the curry sauce to sit.)
To the simmering sauce, add in the still warm kofta, and allow to sit, warming in the sauce for at least ten minutes or so.
Serve with plain steamed basmati rice.
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