What Is Malai in English?

Using Malai in Indian Cuisine

Malai Kofta
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If you are around the Indian food culture, you may have heard the word malai. What is malai? What is the meaning of malai in English? Pronounced "muh-lie," malai is also known as makkhan.

Malai refers to cream and is the word used to refer to cream that is obtained from all sorts of milk. Malai is used most often in North Indian dishes and desserts. This South Asian cooking ingredient is made when non-homogenized whole milk is heated to about 180 F for about an hour. Then it cools. When preparing it, a thick, yellow-toned layer of fat will form on the surface. It is then skimmed off, and the process is repeated to remove the majority of fat. There is about 55 percent of butterfat in malai.

Typically, buffalo milk produces better malai. Buffalo milk has a fat content of about five to 12 percent and cow's milk has three to five percent of milkfat. This is why most people prefer buffalo milk when they make malai.

Using Malai in Food

Dishes that incorporate malai, such as malai prawns and malai kofta have a good amount of creamy gravy in them. The malai gravy is mild and usually made with onions, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic. Then other common Indian food spices such as coriander, cumin, and garam masala are added. The cream, when added to the dish, is the finishing touch. 

What can you expect when you eat malai? Most of these dishes are on the mild side and can be paired with a hotter, relatively drier side dish. You may want to try it with chapati (flatbread) and naan (a leavened flatbread made baked in a tandoor or oven).

Malai is a major ingredient in malai kofta dumplings and it is also used in sweet dishes such as malai pedha, ras malai, and malai kulfi. In malai kofta, for example, potatoes and paneer are used to make the fried dumpling balls. Malai pedha are melt-in-your-mouth cookie-like confections.

Ready to try malai? Try my recipes for Malai Prawns and Malai Kofta. They will give you a good overview of how to prepare malai and use it in a common dish.

If you are new to Indian food, there are about 20 to 30 spices that are used in a lot of dishes. These include coriander, cumin, ginger, and turmeric. Not all Indian dishes are curries, as is evident from the malai.