I got this book, Curry Cuisine, at the local Barnes and Noble Booksellers. (Barnes and Noble must both be getting pretty old by now, I don’t know where I’ll purchase my folios once they kick it.) I bought it purely because the cover is really fun. Also it was on sale.
I didn’t actually open the book until I got home and was relieved to find that it actually seemed to be of some quality in addition to having a section dedicated to Myanmar, which differentiates it from every other cookbook I have. I also appreciate the “Indian and Southeast Asian Ingredients For Dummies” sections, where it shows me what all the ingredients I’m supposed to be hunting down look like, because what the fuck do I know? I need a picture with an arrow that says THIS IS GALANGAL. I still won’t be able to find it, but at least I’ll know what it is that I’m not finding.
I’d already destroyed 95% of the taste buds that had regenerated themselves following the first roast jalapeno salsa episode after this Tuesday’s second roasted jalapeno salsa episode. They haven’t had enough time to come back online so I figured I’d be good to go with the first real recipe in the book, fiery lamb curry. (The first recipe is ghee, which I also made but which doesn’t really count.)
Fiery lamb curry is made fiery with the addition of these little red peppers. We use these same little red peppers when we make chili (the book wanted me to use Kashmiri chiles, which I would have been more than happy to do except that Lee’s Continental Fruit and Vegetable* only had the little chiles de arbol), and we use 3 or 4 for the whole big-ass pot. Here, for a 4-serving dish maybe a third of the size of a standard batch of chili (that somehow required 2 1/4 pounds of lamb, but that’s a separate issue), you use TWENTY FIVE TO THIRTY CHILES.
You do soak them first, so that probably takes care of the heat. The hot water must leech it out, right? Right? And then that’s why you have to add the extra two teaspoons of cayenne.
*I have nothing against Lee’s Fruit and Vegetable. They have Tate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pirate Booty, those little dried shrimp you use in pad Thai and fresh mung bean sprouts, and the lady behind the counter is not as mean as she looks. Keep up the good work, Lee’s.
Back to this lamb thing, and the 2-1/4 pounds for four servings. Maybe it’s just me, but it sounded like a lot. I don’t cook lamb often, but I don’t recall it wilting down like spinach or being so particularly light that eating a half-pound of it would not stretch the boundaries of the stomach.
Luckily, we only got 2-4/5 of a pound. Yes, that’s more. Thank you for that, Whole Foods butcher who could not be bothered to do the ONE THING that is his job and CUT A FUCKING PIECE OF MEAT. Fine, we all know that 90% of the people who work behind the counters there are not actual fishmongers or cheesemongers or lambmongers, but could they at least try to fool us and learn to use the equipment.
To pour salt into the open wound of their incompetence, the “butcher” couldn’t even muster the normal level of perky helpfulness affected by WF employees to compensate for their lack of job skills. Actual conversation:
Brian: “Can you cut me a two-pound piece of the boned leg of lamb?”
Whole Foods Impostor in a Butchers’ Apron: “No.”
It’s true, I wasn’t actually there. I’m just channeling the righteous indignation. So now there’s some bonus lamb in the freezer, I’m $8 poorer and there’re a couple of dogs around here who had a Very Special Dinner.
While some green cardamom pods sizzled and popped, bay leaves fried and onion and garlic browned in the ghee I’d made when I first got home*, I put together the yogurt mixture that would eventually go into the curry: plain yogurt, ground black cardamom, toasted cumin seeds, salt, and cayenne. It is “fiery lamb curry,” after all, so you need your spice somewhere.
Oh yeah, and then i took the 30 chiles, popped the stems off ‘em and left them to soak in some hot water. I should have separated them into 30 individual bowls to stop them plotting how to permanently disable the 5% of my taste buds that are currently functioning at full bud capacity.
*I know full well that butter’s not 100% fat, but dang does it take a lot of butter to make a cup of ghee. Also dang does sticking your nose into a fresh bottle of green cardamom pods give your sinuses a 5am wake-up call. Nobody told me.
Once the onion and garlic were golden, the lamb went in for a few minutes, followed by the (drained) chiles. Even drained, the chiles still carried some water – one of ‘em whizzed on me like a newborn baby boy when I accidentally squeezed its middle during transport – so that had to cook out. Then the yogurt mix went in, and that had to cook down until nearly all the liquid was gone. Then stock went in, and THAT had to simmer and cook down until the lamb was tender.
It wasn’t actually as tedious as I’m making it sound; this is merely Acting! Genius! Thank you! Nor did it actually take that long, and it made the kitchen, den, bedroom, common hallway, and street for 3 buildings to either side of us smell rich and spicy. With each step, the curry’s color got deeper and it started looking more and more like a thing I might actually want to eat rather than a brownish-gray slurry.
The only actually alarming part of the whole thing was the ghee. You see, fat has this interesting property where it doesn’t enjoy mixing with water, because it is racist. This is why most fats live in gated communities. Anyway, with each addition of liquid/yogurt the ghee would soon make its way to the top of the pot, a quarter-inch slick of pure butterfat. I can’t lie, it was a creepy. I also can’t lie about the fact that it kinda smelled like mashed potatoes, because good mashed potatoes need lots of butter and ain’t no Swanson broth commercial gonna convince me otherwise. So: ghee = mixed bag.
While the curry was on its final simmer. Brian made the naan. He is to be commended, because not 20 minutes prior to being drafted into naan duty he was violently butted in the Special Man Region by our Old English Sheepdog, whose head is approximately the size of a bowling ball and is made, we’re pretty sure, of concrete with a small hollowed-out cavity for a rudimentary brain stem. Maybe some kind of proto-cortex, but that’s debatable. So I heap many props upon him, being careful to avoid heaping them on The Area.
The dough was a simple flour-egg-milk type thing; it rested for 15 minutes and then got hit with some vegetable olive oil. Cooking the naan was also pretty easy, since we have a tandoor in the form of a sheet pan pre-heated in a hot oven. After 5 or 6 minutes, they were vaguely naan-looking, cooked through, and tasted not entirely unlike buttermilk biscuits. I think there’s some more naan recipe testing that needs to happen. Or we just need to eat curry over rice and call it a day.
Right before serving, the dish gets an extra flavor shot from a tablespoon of ghee that’s briefly simmered with chiles, garlic and more cloves, then poured over the curry. Because this dish might not already be hot enough, or have enough butter. If the Barefoot Contessa were to make a fiery lamb curry it would be this, except that she could somehow work lobster into it and then have 12 gay flower arrangers and 1 gay vintner over to share it.
All my whining aside, this was fricking good curry and I now want to cook my way all the way through Curry Cuisine. Thank god for the naan, because the curry sauce was hot as shit, hotter than Tuesday’s Salsa de la Muerta, and I needed the naan and milk. Whole milk, which is saying a lot, because whole milk is really only for making milkshakes or the occasional Oreo-dipping, not for straight drinking.
The mix of spices and heat level could not have matched better with the lamb if they’d gone on eHarmony; they were a perfect fit in all 29 dimensions. The gamy, earthy lamb kept the curry grounded, while the heady spice mixture pulled it skyward. The overall experience was a paradoxical one of intense heat and balance, and gave me a new appreciation for a well-constructed curry.
The curry was so good, and my trust of the book (naan recipe nowithstanding) is such that I am happy to overlook the fact that the recipes list ingredients by ounces or grams, never by cups, so I have to haul out a scale to measure 9 ounces of chopped onion. (Y’all, 2-1/2 ounces of garlic is a LOT of garlic.) Get with the program, publishers who are obviously trying to appeal to the English speaking world, a good chunk of which (read: United States) still doesn’t understand the metric system: we need cups, half-cups, tablespoons. We keep our scales on high shelves because we don’t think we’re ever really going to need them, and we’d rather not risk blunt head trauma trying to get them down because we were too lazy to drag a kitchen chair over.
Other than that, kudos. Curry Cuisine has my vote.