Last week I focused on Spain and their love of seafood and small plates. Today we travel to South Asia and taste a bit of curry for which Indian cuisine is most noted. Like most countries regional cooking prevails, each area having their own style. The thing that is most consistent across the regions is the spice palate. Any time you wish to learn ethnic cuisines, the first step is to learn the spices. Once you are familiar and your pantry is stocked, the door is open for many recipes. You will see the spices and herbs are used repeatedly in many different preparations. A book I recommend to anyone just starting on this culinary journey is Six Spices, A Simple Concept of Indian Cooking by Neeta Saluja. I am proud to say she is a local author and culinary instructor and I have had the privilege of taking her classes. It is easy to get overwhelmed when reading recipes listing unfamiliar ingredients but Neeta breaks things down and presents in a very understandable way. Another resource for learning the culture and its foods is a website of Indian Food Expert, Petrina Verma Sarkar. According to her, lamb is the most favorite meat of India. It is eaten often in the form of kebobs with a mint dipping sauce or a fiery curry served with basmati rice.
Today’s recipe is my version of lamb curry. The beauty of making your own is you control how fiery it is. I like mine with a bit of heat but not too overpowering and this recipe reflects that. I think if my husband had his way, I would make this every week. It is truly one of his favorites. I have made it many times, sometimes with lamb shoulder and other times with meat from the leg. Either way it turns out tender, succulent and packed with flavor.
CURRIED LAMB Serves 4-6
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
2 T canola, grape seed or other neutral oil of choice
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 piece fresh ginger, 2 inches long, peeled & grated (I use the microplane)
4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or finely minced
6-8 curry leaves
2-3 T mild curry paste (I use Patak’s mild curry paste)
½ -1 t chili powder (preferably Indian)
1 t Chinese five-spice powder
1 t turmeric
Sea salt, to taste
2 lb. lean lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cubed (beef could be substituted)
1 c thick coconut milk
Chopped tomato and cilantro leaves, to garnish
- Heat oil in a large sauté pan and sauté the onion until soft. Add the ginger, garlic and curry leaves and cook for a couple of minutes while stirring.
- Add in the curry paste, chili powder, five-spice powder, turmeric and salt. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the meat and stir well over a medium heat to seal and evenly brown the meat pieces. Keep stirring until the oil separates. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, mix well, Cover and simmer softly until the meat is tender, about 30-45 minutes. Towards the end of cooking (about the last 15 minutes), remove the lid to reduce excess liquid.
- Transfer to a platter, garnish with tomato and cilantro. Serve hot with basmati rice.
Everything in this recipe is available in most markets with the exception of the curry leaves. For these you will most likely have to go to an Indian grocery or order them online (available on Amazon). You could make this recipe without them but the aromatic leaf-not at all related to curry powder which is a spice blend-imparts a pungent lime-lemony flavor that really enhances the overall dish. I think they are worth seeking out. I buy them and store in the freezer where they keep quite well.
Bottom line, if you love the layers of spice and flavor found at your favorite Indian restaurant, you can now recreate this experience at home. It is not difficult or time-consuming. Do some reading, learn about the spice palate, stock your pantry and you are all set. This particular recipe is rich, creamy and full of spicy flavor. Do not confuse spicy with heat. The heat is easily controlled by the amount of chili powder and curry paste. Keep in mind that Indian chili powder isn’t the same as the stuff you use in chili and can be quite hot and don’t be fooled by the use of mild curry paste as it still carries a punch.
I hope this serves as inspiration to try something new. One of the reasons we cook is so we can continue to expand the palate and embark on culinary adventures. So take your friends and family to India soon and keep spreading the love, one exciting dish at a time. The love is flowing from my kitchen to yours. Keep cooking! Jeanne