Some of you may have read my "lessons learned in India" when I wrote about Indian Carrot Pudding, which was a whirlwind review of a 3-week trip. Trying to cover all of the lessons I learned in a single blog-post-sized anecdote would have been an impossible task. So I skipped some things, piecing together the parts that seems to flow into the story and skipping the things that would require too many words. I intentionally skipped one of the most important cooking lessons I have ever learned about Indian cooking, knowing too well that really setting the scene--there we four of us, crammed into a stone kitchen that was no more than 5 feet by 3 feet- would require too many words. It would come up again. I knew it would, because there was no way I could go to long with out bringing up what has now become my Indian cooking mantra.
So let's set the scene: It's New Years day. After traveling for weeks, my dad and I have yet to come across our favorite Indian dish of all, Malai Kafta. We follow the guide book's suggestion to take cooking classes, following it's directions to a single home address. This throws us off, but it is India, after all, so we knock anyways. A middle aged women that is stout and starting to grey answers the door: Yes, I am Rojhi, and I will teach you to cook the curry. What would you like to learn?
It's that small kitchen. There is one entry (no door, just a door frame), and one window (no glass), directly across from it. The rest of the kitchen is build of red-brown stone blocks, even the counter (or maybe it was cement? It was so many years ago). Manish lights the range--a single burner- with a lighter. Her daughter, who is maybe 3 years old, squats on the counter in the corner, squeezing bread dough between her little hands, practicing her Chapati-making skills (in retrospect, I can't help but think of this as a game of real-life patty cake).
Once the stove is lit, Rojhi Pulls out green chilies, fresh ginger root, and garlic. She lays them on the counter, and waves her hands over them. In broken English, she tells me the names of each one. She does not look for a second towards my dad, the fourth person in the room (men in India do not cook--he must've brought me here so I could learn). Still, my dad is the one that understands her accent more clearly, and he tells me what she says. The 3 Gs of Indian Cooking, he translates. (No, not Girls, Guns, and Glory.)
India's Three Gs:
1. Green Chilies
Rojhi goes on to show us how to make our favorite Malai Kafta, Chana Masala, and Dal Makhani, starting each one the same way. Green Chilies. Garlic. Ginger. Ghee should be added as the 4th G, as it was actually the first thing she put in every pan, but replacing it with butter or coconut oil does little to change a curry's final flavor.
To this day, Rojhi's rule has never failed me. Too many Westernized curry recipes call for a scoop of curry powder and leave it at that, but those recipes tend to lack the deep, roasted flavor of garlic and zing of fresh ginger root. A whiff of curry powder fails to conjure up my sweet travel memories, but the smell of the three Gs quickly sautéing throws me into a nostalgic state.
This Curry Braised Lamb begins the same way all great Indian curries do, and finishes with Northern Kashmiri flare--warm cinnamon, cloves, safflower- that makes it stand out in a line-up of Masala dishes. While many traditional Indian dishes are vegetarian, Lamb is a wonderful backdrop for the sweet-and-spicy blend of seasonings. This dish serves a crowd, or treats two to a warm dinner and rich leftovers for several days. I made it in the slow cooker, so the meat is tender and aromatic.
Kashmiri Curry Braised Leg of Lamb
4 to 5 pound leg of lamb, trimmed
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 whole onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece ginger, minced
3 Green Jwala Finger Hot Chilies, minced (Serrano pepper is an easier to find alternative in the US)
2 sixteen-ounce canned tomatoes
3 teaspoons fennel
2 teaspoons cumin
1 three-inch stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon safflower
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (Optional--More or less amy be desired based on the kind of green chilies you use, and your spice preferences).
1 teaspoon salt
15 green cardamom pods
1. Heat the coconut oil in the bottom of a slow cooker. Brown the sides of the leg of lamb.
2. Once the side of the lamb are browned, remove it from the pot temporarily. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, green chilies (the three Gs!), and sauté until the onions are translucent. Dump in the tomatoes, and bring to a simmer.
3. Meanwhile, toast the spices: place all of the whole spices into a small sauce pan, and place over low heat. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Stir them frequently. The spices are done when they are aromatic. Place them all in a coffee grinder and grind into a fine powder (if you are using any pre-ground spices, add them to the mix at this time).
4. Stir the spices into the tomato mixture in the slow cooker. Return the leg of lamb to the pot, and use a label to spread the curry mixture over top of the lamb. Close the slow cooker, and cook on low for 10 hours. Serve with "cauliflower rice", mashed squash, Saag, or other favorite Indian side.