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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

two small aubergines

So as always, I'm a bit late: October the 8th-14th was National Curry Week. But seeing as a good curry is as close to our hearts as queuing and roast dinners, I don't suppose I need an excuse to bring it up. With the 'Birmingham Balti' currently fighting for protected status, and the roots of the humble (if arguably terrible...) Chicken Tikka Masala allegedly lying somewhere in central Glasgow, the curry is about as close to our national dish as one could get.  We all know that for every good one out there there are a hundred or more bad ones, but that's done little to dampen our love affair. In reality, most of the dishes to be found on your average 'Bombay Dreams' or 'Taj Mahal' menus are so far removed from their cultural and geographical roots that you'd be hard pushed to call them Indian, Bangladeshi or anything other than inherently British.

Fortunately, I've been pretty lucky where curries are concerned: my Dad spent the bulk of his childhood living in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, travelling with my Grandad while he lectured physics. The upshot of this? My Nan cooks a mean curry. And we're not talking that Uncle Ben's crap here, either. We're talking two solid days preparing and simmering half a dozen brightly coloured dishes, served with fragrant and authentic sundries to a twenty-strong horde of hungry family members. Personally, I think the key to a memorable curry is keeping it seasonal, and close to its roots: Indian cuisine, for instance, has as many regional influences as Italy does. The following curry has its roots in my kitchen, in October. I can't vouch for its authenticity, but let's face it- this is what we Brits do. We take something foreign and- for better or worse- we put our stamp all over it. Hopefully, this was for better. At least, I enjoyed it.

A winging it, made-up lamb shoulder curry:

  • 750g good quality lamb shoulder, boneless and trimmed
For the marinade:

  • 2 tbsp tumeric
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp Garam Masala
  • 5 cloves of garlic, mashed
  • Mild oil

For the cooking oil:
  • 2 tsp Kalonji (black onion seeds)
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds

And for the rest...

  • 5 banana shallots, diced
  • 1 large Spanish onion, diced (sweeter than a normal one, but either works)
  • 2-3 green chillis, according to taste.
  • 2 tins of plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • Coriander leaves, to garnish
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1) Dice the lamb shoulder into 3/4" chunks, and place in a bowl with the tumeric, ground coriander, ground ginger, Garam Masala and mashed garlic. Add enough oil to get the meat covered, and 'massage' it for a couple of minutes. As feeble as it may sound, rubber cloves are heavily advised; tumeric has a knack for transforming your fingers into those of a 60-a-day smoker. Not hot. Set aside to marinate- the longer the better. If you have time for an overnight session then pop it in the fridge, taking it out two hours before you cook it off so it has time to come slowly to room temperature.

A large, non-stick heavy bottomed saucepan. Something
EVERYONE should own.
2) Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, non-stick heavy bottomed saucepan, on a medium heat. The non-stick part is quite important- nothing pervades the taste of a dish quite as successfully as burnt onions. Add the onion seeds, cloves, and cumin and coriander seeds.

3) Once they start to pop and sizzle, add the chilli, onion and banana shallots. Make sure there's enough room in the pan, and add splashes of water if you feel anything is starting to catch. Cook until soft, translucent and smelling sweet.

4) Add the lamb with all the marinade ingredients, and turn up the heat to brown it nicely. Again, there needs to be plenty of room, otherwise it will sweat when you want to be sealing in the moisture, not boiling it out.

5) Once it reaches a lovely golden brown colour (and not before), add the tomato puree, the tinned tomatoes, and plenty of seasoning. Leave to simmer gently over a medium heat for an hour and a half, stirring now and then to make sure nothing catches. Serve garnished with heaps of fresh coriander.

When I cooked this a couple of weeks ago, I served it alongside some oven-roasted butternut squash, aubergine and pumpkin cubes that I'd tossed in some ground cumin, chilli flakes and oil, which I popped in the oven at 180 degrees for just under an hour. It made the meal taste deliciously autumnal, with the added bonus of bulking it up to feed six of us with the pilau rice, chapatis and salad. Another thing to note- sliced banana with curry is really very nice. Try it.

Happy (belated) curry week!

mrs hunt.x

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