Monday, July 17, 2006

How to do things with curry

Another in the cookbook series.

After the completely bland experience of Chicken Crab-Meat Rosemary, I pulled down one of several 1970s Sunset cook books--Cooking with Spices and Herbs--and decided on the lamb curry. Reading the list of spices in the recipe provoked a question a cook needs to ask occasionally: exactly how old are the spice jars in the pantry? When you don't know how old, you know the answer. So buying the ingredients for this recipe was expensive, not even counting the lamb. I didn't replace every spice in the cabinet--only several, including powdered ginger and cardamom (check the price of cardamom; what a plunge!).

In spite of the long list of spices, the recipe says, "don't be concerned that it will turn out overly spicy. The end product is smooth and exotic." So I forged ahead (halving the recipe).

"Lamb Curry"

2 medium-sized onions
2 cloves garlic
2 T ground coriander
2 t each salt and cumin seed [salt omitted]
1 1/2 t each black pepper, ground cloves, and ground cardamom
1 t each ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and poppy seed
1/3 c lemon juice
2 c unflavored yogurt
5 lb. boneless lamb, cut in 1 1/2 in. cubes
1/2 c (1/8 lb.) butter or margarine
curry powder (optional)

Cut 1 of the onions and 1 clove of the garlic directly into an electric blender. (If you don't have a blender, grate the onion and mash the garlic and combine in a bowl.) Add the coriander, salt, cumin, pepper, cloves, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, poppy seed, and lemon juice; whirl or beat until smooth and thoroughly blended. Blend in the yogurt. Pour this sauce over the meat in a large container, stirring until all the meat pieces are coated. Cover and let stand 1 to 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan or other heavy pan; thinkly slice the remaining onion and 1 clove garlic; and saute in the butter until golden. Add the meat, including the marinating sauce. Cover and simmer slowly until the lamb is tender (about 2 hours). This makes quite a mild curry, so taste and add prepared curry powder (we used about 3 teaspoons) if you want to increase the curry spiciness. Makes about 12 servings.

I left off the prepared curry powder--the basic combination was excellent, "smooth and exotic" as advertised. This dish takes some time, but there's nothing difficult about it. One nice thing about a 1970s cookbook--if you've never invested in a quality food processor--is that a good blender is the fanciest equipment you need.

My research shows that this out-of-print cookbook still has a following. Its strength is in the freedom to experiment that it gives you once you learn, for example, that curry "varies considerably throughout the world, but . . . is usually a combination of six or more of the following spices and herbs: cumin, coriander, tumeric, ginger, pepper, dill, mace, cardamom, and cloves. Together, they give the characteristic sweet-hot curry flavor and aroma."

This one's a keeper.

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