"It is a stew. To all intents and purposes it looks like Irish stew, but the sauce is enriched with coconut milk and there are cardamom pods and cinnamon for aroma and green chillies for heat." Madhur Jaffrey
My only excuse for falling back on a 'writer's block' technique is that I have now been doing this for some time, and so have covered a lot of stuff. Besides these little cheat starts often lead to some interesting stuff.
This first recipe is from her book Flavours of India, which is based on a BBC series that she did back in 1995 on the food of six of India's regions. The book is organised by the states that she visited and the first one is Kerala on India's west coast.
When I read the introduction to this chapter, there was a 'coincidence' moment when she talked about how Kerala produces about a third of the world's peppercorns which she says are "ready for all the steak au poivres we wish to eat and ready to fill pepper-grinders in millions of homes across the world." Well how about that!
You can find this particular recipe here, although now that I look at it, it isn't quite the same as the one in my book which looks rather simpler. The basic flavours and ingredients are the same - well a few extra spices - but the general idea is the same. But I will give you mine because it is a bit different - no peppercorns for a start.
SELVARAJ'S STEW - LAMB STEW
4 tablespoons vegetable oil,
3 cardamom pods
2.5 cm cinnamon stick
About 30 fresh curry leaves
2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, shredded
1 medium- large red onion, finely sliced
450g boneless lamb from the shoulder, cut into 2.5cm pieces, with the fat removed
2 medium-sized potatoes cut into 2.5cm dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2.5cm chunsk
11/4-11/2 teaspoons salt or to taste
2 fresh hot green chillies
300ml/1 1/4 cups coconut milk from a well-stirred can or thick fresh coconut milk
Heat the oil in a large, wide, preferably non-stick pan or wok over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cardamom pods, cinnamon and cloves and half the curry leaves. Stir once or twice. Add the ginger and onion. Stir and fry for 4-5 minutes until the onion is soft.
Turn the heat up too high. Add the meat. Stir and fry for 8-10 minutes until the meat is just beginning to brown. Add the potatoes, carrots, salt and 1.2 litres/5 cups of water. Cover and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.
Add the chillies and remaining curry leaves. Gently simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the meat is very tender and the sauce has the consistency of a puréed soup. (I sometimes need to mash 1 or 2 potato pieces against the side of the pan to achieve this.)
Just before serving, add the coconut milk, stir, and bring to a simmer.
I'm assuming that the version you find on the net from a book called Curry Easy (which I don't have), is a result of her fiddling with the original recipe over time. For that's what we all do isn't it? She hasn't fiddled much - more of the spices, more of the lamb, more carrots and a slightly different order in which the ingredients are added. Plus those peppercorns and cayenne pepper rather than fresh green chillies - perhaps more appropriate for a book called Curry Easy. No garlic though which is interesting, because most Indian dishes include garlic.
I have idea whether this has an Indian name or not. She claims that it is a traditional dish for Keralan Christians.
"Christian Keralites eat this at Easter and Christmas and all other festive occasions. It is particularly welcome at Easter after the Lenten Fast."
Which is interesting - but then lamb is a traditional food at Easter time in the Christian west - is it not? Particularly in the Orthodox churches. Well I guess it symbolises new life - even though you have to kill the lamb to eat it - but then again, I suppose that that is symbolic too in the context of Easter.
In her Kerala introduction she mentions that she was served it in the house of friends - almost all the recipes in this book are ascribed to one Indian or another that she met on her travels, for she says:
"India never fails to surprise me. That is the least I expect of it. ...
Every time I return to India I find new and wondrous foods ... Those recipes sleep in a notebook, waiting for me to find the precise spot for them."
And it seems that this particular recipe is so good that it has appeared in a couple of her books and quite a few people have tried it online. In fact many of her books have recipes which she acknowledges as coming from someone she met on her travels. Perhaps she sees herself as a collector and recorder rather than an innovator. But then she obviously can't resist fiddling, and some of her recipes in other books are indeed all hers.
She says it's like Irish stew - but not really. It has some ingredients in common - lamb, potatoes, onions and there the similarity ends. That gorgeous looking dish at the top of the page (it's from the book), looks nothing like Irish stew - or its cousin Lancashire hotpot, but it really made me want to eat a curry sometime soon. Alas it won't be this one because of the coconut milk - a David hate. I shall have to wait for an occasion at which I can serve several different curries. No time soon of course.
Lamb stew is peasant food is it not? Well it was, because it was made with mutton, and the cheap cuts of mutton at that - food of the poor. Nowadays lamb is one of the most expensive meats here in Australia and you simply can't get mutton, Besides peasant food is fashionable these days. I don't know that lamb is a round the world food though - not in the way that chicken and pork are. Maybe it's often substituted by goat. Maybe even in India they don't actually eat lamb but eat goat. But just about every country that has lamb has a stew - here are a few - from left to right - tagine, agnello brasato from Italy and navarin printanier from France. Just a few.
I somehow do not think of the northern or eastern Europeans as eating lamb - nor the Chinese, or any other Asians come to that. What about the South Americans? Do they have sheep? And I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the Americans do not eat a lot of lamb. So maybe it's a Mediterranean, western European thing.
Not cheap peasant food any more though. Full marks for not tarting up the title of the dish to something elaborate. She's calling it what it is. Though maybe she should have said Indian lamb stew - or even Keralan lamb stew. I'm sure the other states do it differently. There would not be coconut milk in the north for example.