Dadima Arun sums up her koftas well: “Eating these takes 2 minutes – it’s the preparation which takes time and effort!” She is very particular when it comes to preparing her ingredients – her nightmare scenario would be bland koftas which break apart when fried. With this scenario in mind, she’s developed tried and tested techniques which make flavoursome koftas. Arun always batch cooks her koftas and freezes ahead (without the sauce).
Arun’s favourite filling to use is cauliflower – being vegetarian, she loves to use this versatile vegetable. In line with her younger daughter’s tastes, Arun also uses combinations of spinach and paneer, mixed vegetables, cabbage or ghiya (bottle gourd). I love experimenting with these combinations.
Arun’s secret to making koftas which bind well, is to use a muslin cloth to really squeeze out the excess water. Arun always uses fresh chillies. The key to the tharka (onion masala base) is to make it a smooth, medium consistency. Arun uses a hand-blender to achieve this.
When it comes to serving the koftas, always stir them into the sauce just before serving – too early and they will go soggy. Try and serve the koftas in a fairly shallow dish, so that they are slightly propped up in the thick, creamy sauce and you can see the top of them.
Ingredients for koftas:
30g ginger, peeled
3 green finger chillies, topped (or to taste)
Half a teaspoon of cumin seeds, dry roasted on a pan and then crushed into a powder using a pestle and mortar
Big handful of fresh fenugreek leaves, chopped veryfinely
Big handful of fresh coriander, chopped very finely
1 medium-sized cauliflower, washed and grated (remove leaves, chop in half and grate as normal)
1 teaspoon of freshly ground garam masala
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Vegetable oil for deep frying
2 big handfuls gram flour (chickpea flour/besan), plus 1 extra handful to add gradually
1 teaspoon corn flour
Method for koftas:
Blend the ginger and green chillies finely. Set aside.
Squeeze out excess water from the grated cauliflower (or any other vegetable you use). Do this by placing the grated cauliflower into the centre of a muslin cloth (do this in two batches if you think there is too much at once); fold in the edges, making a little ‘sack’ so that nothing falls out; then, holding the gap closed with one hand, use your other hand to squeeze out excess water over the sink. Don’t be tempted to skip this step.
Transfer the squeezed cauliflower into a large mixing bowl. The texture should now be dry and look like a solid lump.
Add the ginger, green chillies, coriander, fenugreek and all spices except for salt, to the moxing bowl. Mix well with your hands or a wooden spoon. Add the salt now – it’s best to add it last, as it draws out water.
Heat oil for deep frying, in a heavy-based wok.
In the meantime, add two handfuls of gram flour to the bowl and mix. Then add the teaspoon of corn flour – this helps to bind the mixture. It should feel moist, but still fairly dry. Test the consistency by moulding a small ball of the mixture – it should hold together. Never add water to your mixture as the ingredients release their own moisture during mixing. Add a little more gram flour if the mixture seems too wet- not too much otherwise the koftas will be hard and crispy when fried.
Now it’s time to mould the koftas ready for frying. Use the palms of your hands to mould into small balls (around 3cm by 3cm; smaller than a golf ball) – this is key for Arun, as the size helps them to cook through thoroughly. Set aside on a plate. Repeat for the rest of the mixture.
Check the oil is hot enough, by dropping in a tiny ball of the mixture. It should rise to the top fairly quickly. Line a plate with kitchen roll, ready to receive your fried koftas.
Deep fry the koftas in batches over a moderate heat (too high and the outside will burn, and the inside will be uncooked). I tend to fry them in batches of 6-8, but judge according to the size of your pan. When you first drop them in, leave them to settle otherwise they may break. Arun advises only to stir once they have ‘settled down’ and become a pale brown colour.
Drain off excess oil using your slotted spoon, and remove from the oil once they have turned golden brown – the key is not to overcook them. Set aside on your lined plate.
Freeze note: once cool, freeze the koftas into sealed freezer bags.
4 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 cloves garlic
1 green finger chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
20g fresh ginger, peeled
1 onion, finely chopped
Half teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
250g tomato passata
150ml single cream (some to be used for garnish)
Around 1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon freshly ground garam masala
Pouring cream, to garnish
Fresh coriander, to garnish
Blend the garlic, ginger and green chillies and set aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds, allowing them to sizzle.
Add the onions and cook for a few minutes until softened. Then, add the garlic, ginger and green chillies and cook for a few more minutes, until the onions are light brown.
Add the paprika and salt, and cook for a further two minutes with the masala.
Add the tomato passata and stir. Cook until the tharka is ready. This is when oil bubbles form around the tharka and the sauce consistency thickens.
Add around 100ml of the cream and stir through the tharka over a moderate heat for 2-3 minutes. Then, add the boiling water and stir over a moderate heat.
Simmer for 10 minutes uncovered, until the tharka thickens. Stir occasionally. Add the garam masala.
Take off the heat and use a hand-blender to make a smooth tharka. Push the hand-blender right into the sauce so it doesn’t splatter.
Just before serving, add as many koftas as you need to the tharka and serve immediately. Drizzle over the remaining cream to personal taste and garnish with coriander.