"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Cooking with Memsahib: Delhi-Style Lamb

by Julie Tilsner on March 12, 2007

in Minor Miracles, Dinner, Meat!

Bindi_1 Five things I love that are from India:
Basmati rice

Oh yes. And the food, of course. Ah, Indian take-out. Is there anything that a good chana dal over rice won’t cure, atcha?  Or milky, chai tea and sinful gulab jaman? I have loved Indian food and the restaurants that serve it from San Francisco to London. But cooking it myself has proved…tricky.

Years ago in another life I had the hubris to pick up Madhur Jaffrey’s seminal paperback Indian Cooking, and yes, I did go though a phase of trying to perfect a simple dal, to mediocre results. (I’d never attempt a meat dish, although there are few sensations better than a chicken tika that falls off the bone into your fingers and from thence into your waiting mouth). Indeed, the few attempts I’ve made at Indian home cooking have given me minimal return on investment, so I typically opt to pay professional East Indian cooks to prepare my Indian food so as not to further insult the cuisine.

But then Deb over at Smitten Kitchen had to go and try the potato and cauliflower dish, and she made the raita, of course, and she took pictures of everything, all while waxing poetic about the scent of cumin. The sum total of her blog entry only served to distract me from work and induce me into a temporary madness in which I decided I had no choice but to either A) fob the nits on someone so I could run off to the sublime Udupi Palace in Artesia’s Little India that very night, or, B.) make the one recipe I can pull off from Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking: Delhi-style lamb cooked with potatoes.

Babysitters are expensive. I opted for choice B.

I wish I could tell you I botched this recipe. I have in the past. But I have also made it enough to feel fairly secure in my ability to pull it off. This is no small thing if you’re going to put in the effort to drive across town and spend $15 on lamb kabobs from the fancy-ass organic grocery chain. And I was willing, even though I knew my kids wouldn’t touch it (my daughter will sometimes have a bit of lamb, if I wash the sauce off first) and Tony might find it too spicy for his taste. But forget everybody else for once. This one was for me.

Here’s the recipe: For my small family I typically halve everything but the spices.

7 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, peeled and minced
1/2 -1 fresh green chili, minced (I routinely omit this)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 1/4 pounds lamb (I get lamb kabobs already cut into cubes)
3  medium fresh tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped – canned  tomatoes may be substituted (I use one 16-ounce can of diced tomatoes with the juice)
1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1/4 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (to your taste)
2 teaspoons salt
1 lb medium potatoes, peeled and cut in half
3 2/3 cup water

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over a high flame. When hot, put in the onions, green chili, if using, and garlic. Stir and fry until the onions have browned slightly. Put in the meat and stir vigorously for about 5 minutes. Now put in the spices, continue to stir and cook on high heat for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce is thick and the oil seems to separate from it. Add the potatoes and water. Cover, leaving the lid just slightly ajar, and cook on medium-low heat for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick.

I’ve found that it’s prudent to stir once in a while so stuff doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Ms. Jaffrey writes that she likes this “everyday dish” with rice, an Indian bread, or Gujerati-style green beans, the recipe for which is in the book. I typically just serve this in a nice bowl with crusty style bread. And nobody seems to complain. Although I haven’t made this dish in several years, I am happy to report that it came out beautifully and did not disappoint (although a nice cold Kingfisher beer would have been the ideal accompaniment). Tony finished his entire serving with great gusto. I don’t think he believed I actually made it myself.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

janelle March 13, 2007 at 9:50 pm

See? I love Trader Joes. You are too funny, my friend. I wish I had a curry filled clue, but I don’t. I really am trying over here to perfect a chicken curry, but to no avail… good excuse to go buy another cookbook, you think?


Mister J March 13, 2007 at 3:17 pm

You know Trader Joes sells excellent Indian curry and braising sauces. Ever since they started selling that, I’ve stopped making Indian food from scratch cause it never comes out right. But w/ these sauces, it comes out perfect all the time with the perfect and correct fragrance and color and texture. . . Just like ordering from your favorite Indian restaurant. About the only thing I make from scratch now is the Basmati Rice or Naan. And by doing it this way, you save a whole lot of time, but it will taste like you slaved away in the kitchen.


AT March 14, 2007 at 10:05 am

I took much delight in savoring this delicious Delhi-style lamb with potatoes, while attentively observing the beautiful Bindi- wearing (bad home) cook. Yes folks, she really did make this herself!


Kelli Johnson March 19, 2007 at 9:56 pm

okay – we definitely have to organize a cooking party asap! I just posted about my evening shopping trip to marukai and ranch market! You’re killing me! Talk soon? Kelli


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