The perfect meatless koftas in my opinion are made with a jumble of paneer, potatoes and some nuts, and I was fortunate to have a box full of chestnuts this year thanks to the guys at Zama Organics. Now these chestnuts came down all the way from the Himalayas, and since I was new to them, I merely followed the instructions of the famous holiday song, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”. I made little slits on the underside of the chestnuts and roasted them in my cast iron pan, no oil involved, till they were scorched and looked like their peels would come off without much effort on my part. You could do this in a hot oven preheated to 200 degrees celsius and watch their skins darken from time to time too. A few things you must be aware of though is that the chestnut must be pierced, otherwise it can explode as it heats from the inside, and they are easiest to peel if they’re still hot so keep the recently roasted (or boiled, yes you can boil them too) chestnuts covered with recently boiled water.
Once their skins are off, they taste a bit sweet and much like the lovechild of cashew nuts and potatoes, so infinitely delicious. It’s no wonder these are so popular in the West come Christmas, and I only now understand what may be the appeal of sweet chestnut puree in dessert. However since I am quite Indian in my approach to nuts, I’d much rather blitz them up and use them to make gorgeous brown koftas, then dunk them in a creamy gravy. Since these koftas are a bit unconventional, I’ve chosen to do away with raisins and instead gone with some chopped dates which at least according to me, gives it a lovely texture as the dates soften alongside the creamy paneer and mashed potatoes when the koftas are shallow-fried.
Chestnut Kofta Curry
Yield 4-6 servings
For an easier riff on the curry for this dish, swap out the whole garam masalas for about 1 tsp of garam masala powder which you can add before the stage when you add the cream. Also, if you don’t want to opt for cream here, I find that a mix of 1/4 cup peeled almonds, a heaped tablespoon of poppy seeds and a heaped tablespoon of coconut powder works, blitzed with some water to make a paste works just as well.
For The koftas
Malai Paneer 100g, crumbled
Potato 1 medium-sized, boiled in water with salt until fork tender, then peeled and mashed
Dates 2 tablespoons, pitted and chopped
Ginger 1 tsp, freshly grated
Garlic 3 cloves, minced
Coriander 2 tablespoons, finely chopped
Green chilli 1, slit lengthwise and finely chopped
Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Garam masala 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder 1 tsp
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Amchur or dry mango powder 1/2 tsp
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for shallow-frying the koftas
For The Gravy
Ghee 2 tablespoons
Onions 3 medium-sized, pureed in a mixer grinder
Bay leaf 1, torn
Cinnamon stick 1/2 inch, bruised
Black peppercorns 3
Cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
Green cardamom pods 2, bashed in and added
Tomatoes 2, medium-sized, pureed
Tomato puree 2 tablespoons
Turmeric 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Ginger 1 tsp
Garlic 4-5 cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
Sugar 1 tablespoon, plus more to adjust
Kasuri methi 1 tablespoon
Water for loosening the gravy
Chopped coriander 1 tablespoon for garnishing
Score the underside of every chestnut and roast the chestnuts in a pan over high heat till the skins look ready to come off and the surface looks scorched. You can also roast these in an oven or a naked flame in batches. Peel immediately as they're only easy to peel when warm. You could immerse them in warm water to keep the peels soft. Once peeled, pulse the peeled chestnuts in a mixer grinder and combine the blitzed mixture with the mashed potato, malai paneer, dates and all the spices, herbs, salt and pepper.
Combine this mixture using the tips of your fingers taking care to not overwork the mixture. Taste and season if necessary. Oil your hands and form this mixture into little koftas and transfer to the refrigerator.
Start on your gravy. Heat the ghee in a kadai or saucepan over medium-high flame and add all the whole spices-bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, peppercorns, cumin seeds and greens cardamom pods. Fry the whole spices in the oil till fragrant. Once you can smell the potent spices, add to this the pureed onions. Lower the heat to a medium-low and let the onions brown, stirring frequently so that they don’t catch. This step is important because you must cook the onions thoroughly until no raw taste of the onion remains.
Once you feel the onions are done, add the ginger and garlic and turn the heat up slightly tossing them around for a minute or two to activate their flavours. Next up, add the tomatoes and the tomato puree followed by the turmeric and red chilli powders. Add the sugar and two pinches of salt at this stage. Cook this over medium-high heat for 3 minutes stirring often before turning the heat down to low, clamping a lid on and forgetting about this mixture for 10-12 minutes. Once the tomatoes have cooked through completely, add the cream and some recently boiled water to loosen the gravy as per your preference. Next, add some salt and pepper according to taste. Give everything a good stir and once again cook covered for 4-5 more minutes before the flavours to combine. Finish the gravy with 1 tablespoon of kauri methi, crushing it with your fingers as you add it in.
Now that the gravy is ready, in a frying pan, heat the vegetable oil for shallow-frying the koftas. Once the vegetable oil is sufficiently hot, place the koftas in the hot oil letting them brown on one side completely before turning them and letting them brown on the other side. This shouldn’t take very long. Drain the golden and ready koftas on paper towels and when ready to serve, dunk them in the kofta gravy and bring to the table. Serve with rotis or rice, garnished with chopped coriander.