My Mother has always taken a simple approach towards cooking. She doesn’t like over complicating things and her spice cabinet is limited to salt, red chilli powder, cumin and turmeric. If there’s a way to make cooking quicker, less messy and easier, she’ll always recommend it.
I’m another ball game. The use of different spices absolutely fascinates me. I love freshly grinding my own concoctions and if there is an authentic but much longer route to take in the kitchen, you bet I’ll take it. For daily curries, I lean towards my Mother’s way of cooking but I am not alien to using the longer routes on the days I have the time.
I made this curry the day after my first anniversary for my husband as a bit of a special dinner, which is why I went the extra mile and ground my own spices.
It is extra labour, but it is a labour of love. The extra work paid off well, and the results were spectacularly delicious! This recipe is most definitely a keeper and I think you should put it on your to-cook list NOW!
What makes this Kofta Curry so good?
Using a number of family resources, my own taste testing and just general desire to cook an out-of-the-ordinary dinner, I’ve developed this recipe and I think it has that ‘wow’ factor.
This is thanks to:
- the freshly roasted and ground spices – the warm and earthy undertones of the cardamom and cinnamon
- the vivid, fiery hue of the Kashmiri red chilli powder! Trust me, this little spice is a gem to add a pop of colour to any meal. It has a very mild, inoffensive flavour. In this particular recipe I’ve used 3tsp but believe me this curry is not too hot to handle!
- the flavour of the meatballs! |t is wonderfully spiced – in fact, I could happily use the meatball mixture to make kabobs and keema
- The tenderness and juiciness of the meatballs is just TO. DIE. FOR. I’ll talk more about how to get that juice factor in this post!
- The very authentic flavour. Trust me guys, this is the REAL DEAL, full on authentic Pakistani kofta experience!
What makes a kofta curry AUTHENTIC?
What is considered is totally up for debate. And that includes ‘how important is it REALLY for things to be authentic?’
Something certainly doesn’t need to be AUTHENTIC for it to be accepted or enjoyed. This recipe is an authentic-style recipe but there’s in no way another wrong with other recipes out there which don’t follow this style.
Here’s what make up the traditional Kofta Curry recipe:
- The meatballs are formed with gram flour, often dry-toasted in a pan before using for extra oomph
- The meatballs are spiced with a number of spices, but most notably white poppy seeds (khashkhaas in Urdu). The poppy seeds are what give the kofta their distinctive flavour
- The masala base of the curry is made from onions and yogurt – no tomatoes are used
- Here’s something which may be new to you! Traditional Kofta recipes do not use fresh coriander as a garnishing, like most Pakistani curries are!
Again, just putting it out there that there’s nothing wrong with following another style! But here I’ve just broken down what I’ve learnt to be the traditional way and that’s what I’m sharing!
How to make soft Koftas
This section is a new bit I’m adding in 2022, about 7 years since I first developed this recipe! I’m amending it because I felt like the Koftas had a lot more potential to be softer and juicier. I tried a few bits and I found the following things made the Koftas more tender than the original recipe (the recipe has now been updated in light of this):
- I reduced the amount of gram flour – this resulted in a lighter kofta without impacting the binding power of it. My ratio for gram flour to meat is 2tbsp gram flour per 500g minced meat.
- VINEGAR! I can’t believe I’ve never used this before! Vinegar is often used to tenderise roast meats, tough cuts of red meat in particular, and when I tried it in meatballs made from chicken breast which is notoriously dry and tough, I was amazed at how much of a difference it made.
- Overcooking can also lead to dry, tough koftas. So if you choose to pan-fry your meatballs before adding them to the curry, don’t do so for longer than it takes to just get the outside to turn golden. Ideally, use whatever liquid may be remaining in that pan in the curry too.
Getting your koftas to be smooth and well-formed
My best tip for this is to wet your hands generously as you shape the meatballs. This really helps get a smooth exterior and limit cracks!
Do I have to fry the meatballs before adding them to the curry?
My initial recipe which was written in 2015 had a step for pan-frying the meatballs to ensure they held their shape. I retested the recipe over the years and now that I’m editing the recipe in 2022, I’ve concluded that pan-frying is not essential. It doesn’t aid binding in anyway, the koftas don’t break if they haven’t been pan-fried in advance. In fact, I find sometimes pan-frying can dry out and overcook the meat, particularly in the case of chicken.
The only benefit I can see in pan-frying them is the meatballs do take on a darker, more golden colour, which may be good for meatballs made from chicken (particularly chicken breast) which can look very pale if not fried.
Do I need to use poppy seeds in my Kofta?
So this recipe calls for white poppy seeds (khashkhaas in Urdu) which is a speciality spice and most likely not available for regular supermarkets or even smaller Asian grocery stores. I got mine from a very large Asian store in London. If you don’t have poppy seeds or can’t get them, it’s absolutely OK to omit them. It will make the meatballs taste different to how this recipe intends them to be, but they will still be tasty!
How to make Kofta curry with lamb, mutton or beef
I made this kofta curry with chicken mince, but I am a lover of red meat therefore I think these would be absolutely glorious with lamb, mutton, goat or beef mince.
To alter this recipe for red meat, you’ll need to increase the cook time of the meatballs and increase the amount of water added. Check out the recipe notes for more exact information on these timings.
How can Koftas be served?
Koftas go GREAT with both roti and rice.
The day after making this, I added some boiled eggs to the curry and served it alongside some parathas. You can most certainly add anything else that you fancy, including potatoes, chickpeas etc. This also helps pad the curry out so it goes a longer way than it otherwise would have.
Can Koftas be frozen?
Koftas are a fabulous freezer-friendly item! I froze loads of these before I had my son in 2020 and they were really a life saver. They’re generally incredibly convenient to have on hand for lazy nights, busy dawats or even guests who haven’t given you much notice! Here’s how you can go about freezing koftas:
- You can freeze the meatballs once they’ve been shaped as long as they haven’t been defrosted from raw already due to health and safety reasons. To freezer raw meatballs, line them up on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and put them in the freezer till they’re frozen solid, which should take around 6-8 hours. Once they’re frozen, you can pop them into a ziploc bag/airtight container. This will keep well for 3-4 months.
- If you don’t want to freeze raw meatballs (say, in case your meat has been defrosted already), you can bake, air-fry or pan-fry your meatballs till they’re cooked through, then line them up on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and put them in the freezer, again, till they’re frozen solid. Once they’re frozen, place them into a ziploc bag or airtight container. This will keep well for 4-6 months
- This curry in its cooked and complete form also freezes great too. Just transfer however much you’d like into a airtight container or bag and freeze. This will keep well for 4-6 months.
A few bonus tips to help make your Koftas amazing:
- Perfecting the texture of the kofta is a bit of an art – you’re after meatballs that are succulent and juicy, soft but firm and ideally ones that hold their shape. The gram flour is what binds the meatballs together so it’s really important to get the ratio right. The quantity I’ve provided in the recipe is what works for me – but it’s important that you do that test taste and see how the texture is.
- Also – over-mixing the raw mixture may also result in tough, hard meatballs. Once everything has been mixed in, refrain from mixing further
- Oiling your hands will help you form a meatball that doesn’t have any cracks. Try to firmly pack the meatball as you roll it so there aren’t any holes on the inside
- You will need minced meat that has been minced through a machine. Avoid chunky haath ka keema for this recipe.
- The koftas will be rather delicate when they are cooking. You may have seen your Mother do this when she was cooking koftas – don’t stir the pot with a spoon, lift it up and swirl it around when you want to mix things! This will help avoid breakage
- Please do not wash the minced meat. Not only do the USDA not recommend it for safety, it will become soggy and sad and will not bind nicely. I’m sorry, I know some people won’t like this tip but it’s really important. If you can’t bear to do this, please allow your mince to drain thoroughly before using.
I hope you will enjoy this recipe just as much as me and my husband did!
I garnished it with poppy seeds to keep in line with tradition. However, I don’t see any reason why garnishing it with fresh coriander would in any way disrespect the meatballs. Go ahead… use the coriander if you want to. I won’t tell anyone.
Enjoy, with love x
For the meatballs
- 750 grams minced chicken
- 1.5 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1.5 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds
- 1 black cardamom
- 1 small piece cinnamon
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp red chilli powder, or to taste
- 2.5tbsp gram (chickpea) flour
- 3tsp white vinegar
- 2-3 tbsp water, to held shape the meatballs
For the curry
- 1.5 medium onion
- 12 cloves garlic
- 0.25 cup oil
- 0.5 cup full fat yogurt
- 3 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 0.25 tsp turmeric
- 1 black cardamom
- 1 small piece cinnamon
- poppy seeds, for garnising
For the meatballs
- Transfer all these spices to a grinder and pulse till they become a fine powder
- In a food processor, add your minced meat alongside the spices you just powdered and all the other meatball ingredients. Pulse this till smooth and all the spices are mixed through
- Take a small amount of the meatball mixture and pan-fry it to check for spices. Taste and adjust accordingly. Please don't skip this step as you may find you want to make the meatballs more spicy or salty and once you fry the meatballs, you won't be able to make any changes
- Once you've adjusted the seasonings to your liking, shape the meatball mixture into small/medium sized balls. I got 24 meatballs with my mixture. Try to avoid cracks in your meatballs - some are inevitable but try to minimise them as much as you can. Using water on your hands will help you to make smooth koftas.
- (optional) In a deep wok, fry the meatballs in minimal oil on high heat till they are browned on the outside. We aren't aiming to cook the meatballs through, we just want the meatballs to change colour. Be very gentle with them!
For the curry
- In a pot/pan, heat the oil and then add the onions. Fry until they are a deep brown, adding the garlic in for the final few minutes.
- Transfer the onions and garlic to a food processor and pulse till smooth
- Return the onions and garlic to your pot. Now stir the yogurt in. Mix well, and then add all the curry spices. Saute this on high heat till you see the oil begin to separate from the body of the curry
- Add approximately 2-3 cups of water. You can vary this amount depending on how much soup (shorba) you like, but I wouldn't recommend going below 2 cups. Bring to a boil
- Add in all your meatballs. Turn the heat to a low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Once or twice during this time, pick up your pot (lid on) and swish the pot around so that the meatballs and shorba can be stirred without being touched. If we use a spoon to do this, we risk breaking the meatballs
- In the most authentic of recipes, fresh coriander is not used for kofta curries. If you want to garnish your curry with coriander anyway, then go for it! Otherwise, you can garnish your meatballs with a sprinkling of poppy seeds or leave it the way it is. Enjoy!
To adjust this recipe for lamb or beef, add 5 cups of water instead of 3 and cook for 50-60 minutes instead of 20. Mutton may require more water and cook-time, but first start off with the instructions given for lamb and beef and then see if you need to add more water and cook for longer.
If you don't have poppy seeds or don't wish to use them, simply omit them.
Enjoyed this recipe? For more Pakistani recipes on my blog, click here!
Also in kofta varieties – my Nargisi Kofta (Scotch egg curry) is a winner too!