Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Curried Lamb Dish for Dinner

Heidi and me opening gifts
I have mentioned quite a few times lately that a friend, Heidi, and I had celebrated our birthdays together. When asked what she would like for our dinner, she said Indian Curry. Since I am a total lover of Indian spices and flavors, an Indian Curry sounded perfect for our birthday dinner. Most times, I use a recipe from somewhere and then embellish to my husband's and my taste. Most often, the changes and embellishments leave little of the original recipe. However, since I had already had at least one and up to 3 guests at a time for the previous three weeks, I was seriously cooked out by the time it came to our birthday dinner. I looked desultorily through some of my Indian cookbooks but could not find a single recipe (which attests to my tired and scattered state of mind) that seemed to fit. The only specific was that it was to have lamb in it for the meat. 

More often than not, when cooking Indian food for guests I really go crazy, making all the side dishes I love so much like Palak Paneer or a Dhal recipe using little red lentils. I make Paneer from scratch, along with whatever is the main dish. I made Gulab Jamun once. I just love those little things for dessert. I have oodles of recipes I have made successfully and deliciously. Besides being hurried, and because I had absolutely no plan for a dish for this meal, nothing sounded good. Maybe I need more cookbooks! Probably not, though I will likely get more. I was updating cookbooks on my Amazon Marketplace and found a couple of books that sound like they could be good. (Indian cookbooks I am interested in here). But seriously, it was not the cookbooks that were lacking. It was just that I had no free time in peace and quiet to peruse and select at my leisure, pure and simple. I am a planner. When something special is required, I take plenty of time ahead and look carefully through my books for inspiration.

Curried Lamb with Peas over Saffron Rice
So it was that I came to the time to prepare the meal (my kids who were visiting had just left that morning, so I was still missing them acutely), with my guest Heidi having just arrived, and still with absolutely no plan for my Indian Curry. I was beginning to panic. Finally I just decided to wing it; something that is very rare for me. I knew I wanted to use coconut milk, because my husband and I really love curries with that flavor. I most often include green peppers and peas in my curries, purely because they are some of the very few vegetables my husband will eat. 
Basmati rice

This time though, I also had Heidi's tastes to consider. She is willing to try things, but to date, her tastes are quite different than mine. She likes more simple foods, and nothing too exotic. I had her taste plantains. She was completely unimpressed and left them on her plate barely tasted. Black beans, the same. She will eat, but sparingly, if she doesn't care for it. She surprised me on two counts this trip, because she tasted my Serbian Grandmother's Beets and Horseradish with ham for breakfast, and while serving herself sparingly at first, she went back for a little more, then a little more, and yet again. Yea, Heidi!

I had already butchered a leg of lamb in preparation for the meal. I just had to find something to do with it. I started pulling out spices that sounded good to me (ALL Indian spices sound good to me!), resulting in quite a list. I got out the coconut milk. I opted to set the meat to "marinate" briefly with a few things while prepping others. The only accompaniment to the curried dish was saffron rice. I could not believe Heidi was unaware of saffron! She loved the flavor of the rice and the smell of the saffron, so I have hopes for her on that score! My saffron rice is simple, but we love it. I buy large bags of Basmati Rice (from India, it says on the bag) when making this rice, and we love the flavor. It is a side dish for many meals - not only Indian.

Saffron Rice

serves 4 - 6

1 cup Basmati rice
1 tablespoon butter or ghee
1 teaspoon salt
pinch saffron
2 cups water

Place rice, butter and salt into a medium saucepan with tight fitting lid. Rub the saffron between fingers to break up into very tiny bits. Add water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on. Remove from heat and leave lid on until ready to serve. 

As for my curry recipe, it came out well, following no recipe at all, but only adding in things I really love. If ground fenugreek is not available, soak a teaspoon of whole fenugreek seeds in hot water to cover for about 15 minutes, then add the seeds and water to the main dish while it cooks. Many Indian dishes are well spiced with chile of some kind. I have red chile powder (not the kind used in Chile con Carne - just plain ground chilies) and added 1/2 teaspoon. The heat was not very noticeable. If desired hotter, use cayenne or add in some hot chiles of choice to cook with the dish. Here is what I did:

Curried Lamb with Peas

Serves 4 to 6
Curried Lamb with Peas
2 pounds lean lamb stew meat
1 teaspoon rosewater or water
1 pinch saffron
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fenugreek powder
1 tablespoon Tandoor Spice


2-inches true cinnamon, broken
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, seeds only
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon ghee or oil of choice
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, cut into cubes
1 can coconut milk, stirred
1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
cilantro leaves for garnish

In a small bowl, soften the saffron threads in the rose water or water. Set the meat into a mixing bowl, add in the saffron mixture with the ginger, garlic, salt, fenugreek powder and Tandoor Spice. Allow the meat to marinate while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Heat a dry skillet to medium high and add in the whole Masala spices. Stir them quickly, moving constantly, to bring out their fragrance and oils. Pour onto a plate to cool, then grind them in a spice grinder and set aside.

In a large skillet or pot, over medium heat, melt the ghee. Add in the meat and stir quickly to sear slightly. Add in the onion and cook, stirring frequently until the onion has softened. Add in the ground Masala and stir to combine, then add in the green pepper and about 1/2 to 3/4 of the can of coconut milk. Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the meat has become tender. If at any point the pan becomes too dry, add in a little more of the coconut milk, as needed. Stir in the almond meal, which will thicken the mixture slightly. About 5 minutes before serving, add the frozen peas and allow them to that and the curry to come back to full heat. Add the Garam Masala and check for salt. Serve over Saffron Rice. Garnish with cilantro leaves. 

As it turned out, I am glad to report that both Rich and Heidi loved the curry. They each served them selves seconds or more and were so taken with the flavors and style of the curry. We loved it too, so obviously winging it once in a while is also a good thing!

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.