Plantain/knachkolar kofta made by Maa

No, I am not going to give you another lecture on the origin of koftas and how we adapted it. You already know it. Some years ago I used to live with a roommate who was a vegetarian. I wasn’t though, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of making fish only for myself and also bothering my non-fish eating roommate. As I love vegetarian food, I used to cook mostly vegetables. One day I made knachkolar/plantain kofta curry. I tried it for the first time in my life. I didn’t go gaga over it, but for some reason my roommate really liked it. Plantain not being one of my favorite vegetables, it got wiped out from my memory after a while. Never made it again as I never craved for it.

DSC_0918A couple of months ago when I visited her, she said she still remembers my koftas. I was truly surprised. I would never have guessed. I totally forgot the recipe and even the taste of it. All I remember is that it didn’t taste excellent. But I promised her that I’ll make it and post it on my blog.

Couple of weeks ago when my Maa came to visit us, the first thing I asked her to make was knachkolar kofta. I know I do not have the patience to go through the entire process and I was guilty of postponing the whole thing for a long time. The whole cooking happened in my absence, so I do not have any first hand experience of how to cook it her way. Maa just told me the recipe and I am writing it. Trust me, Maa’s koftas tasted really good. I mean real real good. She made it very differently than I would have thought. As with any other koftas, they tasted way better after a day or two. We had it the day they were made and they were still a little hard inside. We had it again after a couple of days and they had absorbed all the goodness from the gravy and tasted awesome.

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It was a weekday and I didn’t have time to photograph this dish extensively. I’ll update this post if Maa makes it again and will surely post more photos.

As I said, I wasn’t at home when it was cooked, so cannot give you any proportion. Go with your instinct and experience.

Recipe:

Ingredients: 

To make the koftas:

Plantain: Try to get the Indian variety; if you cannot find them, use the American ones. Actually Maa made it with the American plantains and she said they were very hard.

Cumin-coriander powder

Crushed black pepper

Raisins a handful

Chopped green chili

A little bit of ginger paste

Oil

Salt (not too much as the koftas will be absorbing the salt from the gravy as well)

Little bit of garam masala (cardamom-cinnamon-cloves powdered together)

For the gravy:

Whole cardamom, cinnamon and cloves

Bay leaves

Whole dry red chili

Cashews

Poppy seeds

Garam masala powder

Turmeric

Cumin-coriander-red chili powder

Ginger paste

Green chili

Salt to taste

Oil

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Soak the cashews and the poppy seeds in the water for 10-15 minutes and then grind them to a paste.

Making the koftas:

  • Cut the plantains into one inch pieces and boil them until soft.
  • Drain the water and peel the skin (you can reserve the skin to make khosha bata, my Maa made it and it was very tasty)
  • Mash the plantains with the back of a spoon until very smooth. If your plantain is not very sticky, you can add boiled potato too.
  • Add all the spices (except raisins) and mix them with the mashed pulp. It should form a dough like consistency.
  • Form small balls and put 2 raisins inside them. Close the balls again or reshape them.
  • Once all the balls are made, deep/shallow fry them. Make sure you keep an eye on the heat/flame. The koftas might get burnt if the heat is too high. Roll them gently while frying for even browning or cooking.
  • Drain them on a paper towel/absorbent paper/cloth.

Making the gravy:

  • Heat up the oil and add the whole cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
  • Once they sizzle, add the bay leaves and the whole dry red chilies. Let them release the aroma.
  • Mix the cumin-coriander-red chili-turmeric powder with the ginger paste and add it to the oil. Cook it until oil separates.
  • Add the cashew-poppy seed paste and sauté them again for few minutes. You can replace the cashew poppy seed paste with melon seed paste. Or add cashew paste but not poppy seeds. It’s upto you.
  • Once the spice paste looks well cooked, add warm water and few slit green chilies and bring it to a boil.
  • Lower the heat to a medium high and let the gravy get cooked.
  • Once the gravy is done and reaches it’s desired consistency, add the garam masala powder and cover the pot.
  • Arrange the koftas on a tray and pour the gravy over it. Let the koftas soak the gravy for several hours before you serve.

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Chhanar kofta/Cottage cheese balls in creamy gravy

I suspect that the Portuguese colonizers of Bengal had no idea that their simple curdled milk cheese (the precursor of modern-day chhana) would one day create culinary wonders far beyond their own cuisine. The Bengali’s love for chhana, (often wrongly called cottage cheese in America) is so versatile that we eat it in every possible form. Apart from the gazillion sondesh or desserts made from chhana, Bengalis came up with savory things as well. Chhanar kofta, a curry made with spongy balls of this delicate wonder, is one among the Bengali niramish (vegetarian) favorites.

When I think about chhanar kofta, it especially amazes me because neither chhana, nor koftas is a native Bengali food. Chhana which is a descendant of a Portuguese cheese and kofta which was brought to India by the Mughal or the Persian colonizers are now an integral part of our cuisine. Koftas were traditionally made with meat and are very common in Persian or Middle Eastern cuisine. They are mainly made with minced or ground meat, seasoned with spice and herbs and made into balls. As Bengali widows were strictly forbidden from meat, they created their own highly evolved and richly complex vegetarian cuisine to compensate for their deprivation. Indeed, some of the vegetarian dishes created by these supremely skilled culinary artisans of a bygone era are more than a match for their meaty counterparts. For example, with chhanar kofta, if you have a highly developed palate and can appreciate subtle tastes, it is almost orgasmic when the delicate flavor of the chhana titillates some of your taste buds while the complex spices in the rich gravy are tickling the others.

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That being said, I have committed culinary heresy by creating a version of chhanar kofta with garlic and onions, but I feel compelled to share this with you just because I am a food iconoclast. Bengalis consider onion and garlic as non-vegetarian ingredients and a true vegetarian dish should not include any of these. The recipe I am sharing below is the pure outcome of my mood and whim. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have added the garlic as it imparts a strong taste which kind of steals the subtlety of the delicate koftas. The gravy tasted delicious but somewhere I could feel the garlicky flavor saying hello. Dr. Sen, on the other hand, had no problem with it apart from saying he was glad his grandmother died before eating this, so I think it depends on the person. The recipe below includes the garlic but you are most welcome to omit it (indeed, I encourage you to do this.).

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Milk: 1 gallon

Lemon juice from two large lemons

Potato: 2-4 small/1 medium

Onion: 1 medium

Garlic: 1 clove (optional)

Ginger paste: 2 tbsp

Red chili powder/Cayenne pepper: ½ tbsp

Cumin powder: 2 tsp

Coriander powder: 2 tsp

Cashews: 5-7 nos., soaked in water fro 10-15 minutes and then ground to a fine paste.

Cream: 2 tbsp (optional)

Turmeric: ½ tsp

All purpose flour/maida/cornstarch: 1tbsp

Oil: 2-3 tbsp

Cilantro: A handful

Green chili: 2-3 nos. (optional)

Garam masala (cinnamon-cardamom-cloves powdered together): ½ tsp

Salt to taste

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  • Make the chhana as mentioned here and here.
  • Mix the ginger paste, turmeric, red chili powder together (also the garlic paste if you are using).
  • Boil the potatoes and drain them on a paper towel to get rid of the excess water.
  • Break the cheese lump; add cumin-coriander-red chili powder, salt to taste, finely chopped cilantro, all purpose flower/cornstarch and chopped green chili to it.
  • Add the boiled potatoes as well.
  • Mix the potatoes, chhana and spices together very well.
  • Knead the mixture with your palm very well until the dough becomes very smooth and you can form balls without any cracks in them. Keep them aside.
  • Heat up the oil in a big enough kadai/pot/pan so that you can fry the koftas without overcrowding them.
  • Drop in the koftas and fry them on medium heat until they are golden brown in color. Make sure the oil is not very hot. Drain them on paper towel.
  • In the same oil, add the finely chopped onion and sauté them until translucent.
  • Add the ginger-garlic-red chili powder-turmeric paste.
  • Cook the spice mix for several minutes.
  • Add the cashew paste and cook again until oil oozes out from the sides.
  • Add around a cup of luke-warm water and bring the gravy to a boil.
  • Once it starts boiling, simmer the gravy and let it cook for several more minutes until the gravy riches it’s desired consistency and taste.**
  • Add the cream and boil for 1-2 minutes.
  • Drop in the koftas and some chopped green chilis in the gravy and boil them on medium flame for five minutes.
  • Add garam masala powder and chopped cilantro and cover the pot.
  • Serve it after 5-10 minutes.

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** Do not make the gravy too thick or concentrated, the koftas usually soak up a lot of liquid. I usually put the koftas on the serving plate and then pour the gravy over it and let them soak for 10 minutes and serve. You can keep the gravy and the koftas separate and mix them a little before serving. If you put them together in the fridge, you’ll end up with no gravy and falling apart koftas the next day.