Saturday, November 15, 2014

Making a Lamb Curry

It's been about 2 1/2 weeks since I wrote. An unexpected trip came up, and unfortunately, the time and place I had intended to write had no wi-fi hookup. Then I was with my sisters and families and while I had an absolute ball seeing family again, there was no time at all left over to write a blog. But shopping - ahhhh. We Shopped. Capital "S".

I am home now, and just before we left on this trip I had received delivery of a whole, butchered lamb, much to my joy. Lamb here is extremely expensive, if one can even find it, so when I was at the Farmers' Market just over a month back, I was overjoyed to see a sign saying "Ask Me About Lamb!" I went to the woman and asked! She said they raise sheep and were looking to get into the market a bit more widely around here. Her name is Marie Kimlicka and I was overjoyed to tell her right there and then that I wanted a lamb. As I said, it was delivered just before our trip, so I had not had an opportunity to use it before we left. As soon as we got back I remedied that right away.

My husband and I love lamb, and one of my most favorite ways to make it is in something Indian. I had made Keema Matar (ground lamb with peas) in past, but since living up here, I have only been able to make it with beef hamburger meat. The recipe is on my website and will work with either meat. Our dinner was so delightful. Yesterday I wanted to try out the stew meat. In these parts they call it "chislic", and it is used most often to either fry or stew and often is served with toothpicks as an appetizer. Marie said she used hers most often to make her curries. I was a little dismayed to find out just how much fat was on these bits and pieces of meat. To use it as chislic would have been fine, as frying the meat would render a large portion of the fat away. To use in a curry type dish (without browning the meat), this was just far too much fat for my taste. I easily trimmed off 1/2 pound of fat from the 1 1/2 pound package of chislic meat. Oh well.
Lamb Korma with rice and Chapatis

My Korma Konundrum

There is a recipe that is in all of my Indian cookbooks (about 6 or so), called Korma. Usually made with lamb, this dish has a sauce that is very pale and in some cases, bland. Surprising, when you think about Indian cooking to have a recipe come out so bland. I have tried various iterations of the recipe from many of these books and have never been quite satisfied. It is one thing to have a nice, light sauce with lots of flavor. I love my Chicken and Dumplings with its creamy-white sauce and great flavor. The Korma has mostly been, well, meh. I sat down yesterday with all my books laid open to the page with this recipe, to try and piece together what, exactly makes Korma. I created a recipe based on my findings. I am not Indian, though I just love all the flavors and spices. How much of what I did is genuinely authentic, I have no clue. All I can say for sure is that the result was most excellent.

From my study of all the recipes in all these books, there are some things that stand out as common parts of this recipe. One is the particular masala used. Masala is a mixture of spices; nothing more. In the case of a Korma, in every book these spices were at minimum coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. I added a tiny bit of cloves and a small bay leaf, both found in one particular recipe. Another thing that is common to all the recipes is the use of plain yogurt for a marinade. A third thing common to all the recipes is the use of nuts to thicken the sauce. Most common (and according to one book's explanation, most authentic) is almonds, though cashews can be used. A fourth thing is that the sauce is created from pureeing together onions and garlic (at minimum), with the possible additions of fresh ginger root and green chiles to your tolerance lever. Some add in dried red chiles also. I do not mind some slightly hotter dishes, but my husband is a South Dakota boy, born and bred, and he jokes that ketchup is the hottest he can stand. 

One thing only differed in one of the recipes. When it came to making this pureed sauce, most books had one pureeing raw onion, garlic and ginger. One book only called for first sauteing the onions golden, adding the garlic and ginger to the pan to make them fragrant and then pureeing this combination into a sauce, along with the blanched almonds. This seemed to make more sense, as I have been looking for more flavor. 

One complaint about the Kormas I have made, aside from lack of flavor, is that the sauce always seems to be enough for 2 or 3 recipes worth of meat. If the almonds are supposed to thicken the sauce, there is just no way to thicken this much runny liquid, and the cooking time would have to double in order to cook out some of the liquid. By first sauteing the onions, garlic and ginger, and then pureeing with the almonds, the mixture was so thick I had to add far more than the 1/2 cup of water I had allotted to this task. Beef or lamb stock could (and perhaps should) be substituted for the water, but I hadn't enough time to accomplish the making of a stock beforehand. Water it was, then.

Blanching Almonds

Blanching almonds is an easy enough task. It can be a bit time-consuming, depending on how many almonds need to be used. When blanching and peeling a pound of them for making almond paste, it is time consuming indeed. For the purposes of this small recipe it was a snap. It is best to use whole, raw almonds, when blanching and peeling. Place the almonds into a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring the pan to a boil, remove from heat and let rest for a minute. Drain and rinse with cold water, then hold an almond in one hand and pinch the skin (which is now very loose) at the thicker end. The white almond will start to pop out of the pointed end. Once in a while, one almond will be contrary and pop out the blunt end, but not often. Do this with each almond, until they are all done.

If using for a sauce such as this Korma, they are now ready to use. If looking to process into a powder that will be stored, they will first need to be dried completely, so as not to rot.

Lamb Korma

serves 2 to 3
Lamb Korma with rice and chapatis

1 pound lamb stew meat, in small chunks
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon rosewater (or plain water, if rosewater is not available)
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ghee or cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 - 3 green chilies (serrano, jalapeno)
1/2 cup almonds, blanched and peeled
1/2 - 3/4 cup water or stock

1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-inch true cinnamon stick, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds (or remove the seeds from two green pods)
2 whole cloves
1 small bay leaf, vein removed, crumbled

Make the marinade: Stir together the saffron threads with the rosewater or plain water and set aside for a few minutes while preparing the meat. In a bowl large enough to hold the meat and yogurt, mix together the yogurt with the saffron and its soaking liquid and the salt. Add in the meat and toss to coat completely with the marinade. Cover the container and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Sauteed onion mixture in blender  |  blanched almonds added     |     mixture pureed with water     |     finished sauce

Make the sauce: Set the almonds to blanch as described above. Heat a skillet and add in the ghee or oil with the onions and saute, stirring very often until the onions begin to turn golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. While onions are sauteing, prepare the green chilies. If you love the heat, remove the stems and chop them whole. For less heat, remove seeds and membranes also before chopping. Add in the garlic, ginger and chilies and saute for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the ginger and garlic become very fragrant. Pour the sauteed mixture into a blender. Add in the blanched and peeled almonds and some of the water or stock and blend until smooth, adding more water by small amounts, only as needed. If done earlier in the day, or even a day before, place this pureed mixture into a container with a lid and refrigerate until needed.

Masala Spices
Make the Masala: Heat a dry skillet over medium heat until quite hot. Add in all the whole spices and stir constantly and shake the pan often until the spices are very fragrant and lightly toasted, about 1 or 2 minutes, depending on how hot the pan. Pour the toasted spices at once onto a plate to cool. Leaving them in the pan will overcook or burn them. Once cooled, grind them in a small spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Set aside until needed.

Make the Korma: In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon more ghee or oil. Add in the sauce and the Masala mixture and stir well to combine. Add in the meat with its marinade and stir well. Cover and cook the mixture over low heat for about 45 minutes or an hour. Serve the Korma with rice. Chapatis make a nice accompaniment - recipe in next blog!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.