curry: not in a hurry


lamb curry

Yesterday marked a massive milestone for me. It was the anniversary of moving into my apartment. This meant that for a whole twelve months I have actually been living in the same house with the same job. Now I know that for most people this isn’t a major feat but when you have been leading the itinerant life that I have over the past few years, staying put for a year and still loving life is something to celebrate.

So after inviting a few dear friends around to mark the occasion, I got down to some serious menu planning. I had been looking for an excuse to try the lamb curry in Jared Ingersoll’s Dank Street Depot book for some time now. An Indian extravaganza. Perfect.

Ever since my very first waitressing job in a neighbourhood Indian restaurant, I have been smitten with spice in general and Indian food in particular. For a country girl who had grown up in a house where Dijon mustard was considered to be incredibly hot, an Indian kitchen was a magically exotic place. The colours, the aromas, and that crazy Tandoori oven…it makes me hungry just thinking about it.

For some reason, though, I don’t think to cook Indian anywhere near as often as I would like. With my overflowing spice collection it certainly isn’t a lack of ingredients that is holding me back. Thinking about it, the cause is more a lack of inspirational recipes in my cook books and usual foodie reads. So dear reader, if you have any recommendations I’d love to hear them.

With my main course sorted, I scoured my meagre collection of Indian recipes for a beginning and an end. One of the great things about Indian cooking is the massive variety of dishes that are served in any one meal. So while I was trying to keep it simple with just one main course, a trio of starters with some wholesome chappati bread seemed like a good idea. Dahl is always a winner so that was one option done. Super cooling raita is another favourite of mine and I like to have some on hand in case one of my guests is more sensitive to chilli. With two pretty standard choices, I wanted the third to be something more unusual. Exotic aubergine braised in coconut milk seemed perfect.

I’ve only had dessert in Indian restaurants a couple of times. Overindulgence in the curry department rarely allows room for sweets. The few Indian desserts I have tried have been the Indian version of icecream called kulfi. And while kulfi does have a cooling charm of its own, the texture tends to be a little on the icy side. The solution? A standard custard based icecream given an Indian infusion of cardamom spice and tangy yoghurt. Flicking through this month’s Australian Gourmet Traveller I found the ideal accompaniment for my cardamom icecream. In an article on Middle Eastern sweets were cute-as-a-button semolina yoghurt cakes…..all good things.

an indian extravaganza
spiced dahl
aubergine braised with coconut milk
lamb curry
steamed basmati rice
semolina yoghurt cakes with cardamom icecream


spiced dahl
serves 6

I love lentils in all their forms but there’s a special place in my heart for Indian dahl. The way the spices lift the humble lentil is a thing of beauty. This will make way more than you need as a starter but it also makes a delicious lunch.

This version was adapted from a Christine Manfield recipe published in the Good Weekend earlier this year. I was never lucky enough to eat at Chris’ Sydney restaurant, Paramount, nor her London kitchen east@west. These days she leads culinary tours into various interesting places. Her article about an Indian voyage through Rajhistan was inspirational and caused a recurrence of my old itchy feet syndrome.

3T vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2cm piece ginger, grated
6 birds eye chillis, chopped
2t nigella seeds
2t ground cumin
2t garam marsala
2 cardamom pods
400g red lentils
800mL water
2t sea salt flakes (use less if using standard salt)
zest & juice 1 lime
juice 1 lemon
4 small tomatoes, diced
1 sprig coriander, leaves picked

Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan and cook onion over a medium heat for approx 5mins. Add garlic, ginger, chilli and spices and continue to cook for another 5mins or until mixture is fragrant and the onion is soft and golden brown.
Add lentils and stir then add water and bring to a simmer. Cook covered stirring occasionally for 20-30mins or until lentils are al dente. If the mixture drys out you may need to add more water. Try not to overcook as it will turn the lentils into a sloppy but still tasty mess.

Stir through sea salt flakes , lemon and lime juices and tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning if required. Serve garnished with coriander leaves.

makes 2 1/2 cups

Another Chis Manfield recipe, this was adapted from an article that appeared in the Australian Gourmet Traveller way back in August 2000. The addition of the onion and spices gives the simple cucumber and yoghurt combo a really authentic taste.

It’s better to use full fat yoghurt for raita because the chemical in chilli that causes the heating sensation is only soluble in fat which is why raita works to tame the fire whereas a glass of water only causes momentary respite. If you can’t get your hands on nigella seeds you could leave them out but you’d be missing out on the whole experience.

1t ground cumin
500g thick natural yoghurt
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 sprigs coriander, leaves picked
2 small lebanese cucumbers, deseeded and finely diced
2t nigella seeds + extra for garnish
1t fish sauce

Combine all ingredients and season to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature garnished with a sprinkle of extra nigella seeds.

coconut braised aubergine
serves 6

Again this will make more than you need for a starter but it will reheat well. This was also adapted from the AGT article by Chris Manfield.

1t coriander seeds
1t poppy seeds
2t cumin seeds
1t mustard seeds
800g aubergine (eggplant) approx 2 medium cut lengthwise into batons approx 2cm x 10cm
125mL vegetable oil
2C garlic
2cm ginger, grated
2t chilli powder
1t turmeric, ground
250mL coconut milk
35g coconut
20curry leaves
2T tamarind puree
1/2C water
2T brown sugar
1t tahini

Toast spices in a wok or large frying pan and allow to cool. Grind to form a powder. Heat oil in a wok over high heat and fry aubergine in batches until golden brown on all sides. Add garlic and ginger to the oil along with all the spices and cook stirring for a few minutes or until fragrant. Return aubergine to the pan and add remaining ingredients. Cover and cook over a low heat stirring occasionally for approx 20mins or until aubergine is very soft. Taste and adjust seasoning if required.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

makes 8

Nilgiris is one of my favourite Sydney Indian restaurants. I have been meaning to do a cooking course there for ages. The menu changes monthly and tends to focus on a different region of India each time. No boring butter chicken here.

This was adapted from the chappati recipe on the Nilgiri’s website.

400g wholemeal flour
3/4t salt
2T vegetable oil
275mL water

Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the centre and add oil and water. Stir though to form a wet dough. Cover and rest 15mins. Turn onto a clean worksurface and knead for approx 5 mins until smooth. Cover and rest another 15mins.

Divide into 8 balls and roll out into circles approx 15cm diameter. If the dough is sticking use oil on the rolling pin and the worksurface.

Heat a griddle pan or large frying pan over a high heat and cook chappati for a few minutes until golden on each side. Serve immediately.

lamb curry
serves 6

Jared Ingersoll has also done time waiting tables in Indian restaurants.  This recipe was adapted from his great book Danks Street Depot. The tahini sauce seems a little strange for an Indian meal but it works surprisingly well.

6 green cardamom pods
2 brown cardamom pods
1t nigella seeds
1t fenugreek
1/2t fennel seeds
1t cumin seeds
75g butter
1/4C oil
2 onions, finely diced
2cm ginger, grated
2cm fresh turmeric, grated
2cloves garlic
6 large red chilli, diced seeds in
2t chilli powder
2 bay leaves
1T sea salt
1/2t ground asafoetida
60g dark brown sugar
500mL malt vinegar
500mL chicken stock
1.6kg shoulder lamb, bone in
for the tempuring:
10 cloves garlic
5 french shallots
5 large red chillis
large bunch curry leaves approx 60g
300mL peanut oil
for the tahini dressing:
4T tahini
juice 2 lemons
6 handfuls baby spinach leaves, to serve
steamed basmati rice, to serve.

First make the marinade by grinding the whole spices to a powder. Heat oil and butter in a large flameproof casserole dish and add onion. Cook over a medium heat for 5 mins then add chilli, garlic, all the spices, ginger and turmeric and continue to cook stirring occasionally until onion is dark golden brown and very soft. Add vinegar, bay leaf, asafoetida (be sparing with this spice – too much can easily ruin a curry), salt and sugar. And simmer for approx 20mins or until thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning if required with vinegar, salt, sugar, and chilli. Allow to cool then add the lamb and coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160C. Add stock to the lamb and bake uncovered, turning occasionally so that both sides have a chance to brown for approx 4 hours or until lamb is meltingly tender and falling off the bone.

If the sauce is not thick enough remove lamb and simmer over a medium heat until sauce reaches the desired consistency. Meanwhile remove lamb from the bone and shred meat into chunks using two forks or your fingers. Return to the sauce and allow to reheat.

To make the tempuring: Finely slice each ingredient separately, except the curry leaves. Heat oil in a large saucepan over a high heat and fry each ingredient separately until golden and crispy. Cool on scrunched up paper towel. Be very careful with the curry leaves as they will spit when you add them to the oil. Combine ingredients and season with a generous sprinkling of salt. Will keep in a n airtight container for a month or so.

For the tahini sauce: combine tahini and lemon juice. Gradually add water until the consistency is the same as pouring cream. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide baby spinach between 6 plates. Top with lamb and curry sauce. Drizzle over tahini dressing and finally garnish with tempuring. Serve immediately with steamed basmati rice passed separately.

steamed rice
serves 6-8

Rice isn’t something that I cook very often so I can’t really justify owning a rice cooker. I started using this rice cooking method years ago when Jill Dupleix published it in the SMH. She is now based in London writing for The Times and other publications like Delicious magazine.

There are three secrets to fluffy rice. Using good quality rice to start, rinsing the rice well before cooking, allowing the rice to rest after cooking before fluffing with a fork.

500g basmati rice
1L water

Place rice an a strainer and rinse thoroughly under a running tap until the water coming out of the rice is no longer cloudy. Place in a medium saucepan with the water. Bring to the boil uncovered. Cover with foil and jam on the lid to make a tight seal. Reduce heat to the absolute lowest setting and cook for 15mins. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for at least 5 mins. When ready to serve fluff with a fork and you’re good to go.

semolina yoghurt cakes with cardamom icecream
serves 10

The little cakes were adapted from a recipe by the talented Emma Knowles in the October 06 AGT.

for the icecream:
600mL cream
15 cardamom pods
4 yolks
150g sugar
1C yoghurt
for the cakes:
125g butter
165g honey
zest 1 lemon
1/2t vanilla paste
2 eggs
300g yoghurt
330g semolina
2t baking powder
3t milk
honey to serve
pistachios to serve

Place cream and cardamom in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Beat yolks and sugar until pale and thickened. Stir hot cream through yolk mixture and return to the saucepan. Cook over a low heat stirring constantly without boiling until mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Allow to cool then chill.

Remove cardamom pods and stir through the yoghurt. Freeze in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

For the cakes: Preheat over to 170C and grease 10 holes of a muffin tray. Beat butter, honey and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each. Add yoghurt and stir through. Add semolina and baking powder and stir until just combined. Finally stir through milk and divide mixture between the muffin holes.

Bake 15-20mins or until the tops feel firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

To serve divide cakes between ten plates and drizzle with honey. Top with a crowning of pistachios and serve alongside a scoop of icecream.

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  • I’ve been cooking from the Murdoch Books The Food of India for a weekly curry night for about a year with great success. The recipes are clear, but the book doesn’t have much flavour-text if you like that kind of thing. The photography is good, but the paperback binding is not so good. If you can get a copy at Kmart where they are less than RRP, it’s probably worth it.

    I also have Madhur Jaffery’s Indian Cookery. I find her writing style vaguely irritating, but she does have useful menu suggestions and has a really good seletion of rice dishes.

  • wow that is an impressive spread! i haven’t delved into indian cooking yet although i’ve had 1000 indian recipes cookbook sitting on my shelf since last xmas. but your menu inspires me!

  • thanks ellie, jeff, ml, beenzzz & bruno

    sure…happy to cook for you..might have to get you to contribute some of your delicious creations

    yeah had to get a little creative with the dessert. I noticed that Akis are serving a panna cotta for their light festival banquet..can’t wait to try it

    thanks for the recommendations. Was thinking about madhur jaffrey..I wonder what her memoir is like…will keep an eye out for the murdoch books one.

    indian food can be amazing..but it does leave your kitchen smelling like an indian restaurant for a few days after

  • yamuna devi’s “The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking.” Don’t be fooled by the veggie aspect, it’s a masterpiece and masterclass in one!

  • I ditto the reccomendation on Madhur Jaffrey’s books. Also, Padma Lakshmi has a GREAT collection of recipes as well that I have made with success.

  • Hey Jules~

    I love your website! Many friends follow you!

    I did the Lamb curry (Not in a Hurry) for Valentine’s Day. It was a big hit! I was so worried about the heat using 6 chilis. (I wondered if the chillis in Arizona were slightly hotter than the ones in your area.) When I tasted the marinade before putting the lamb in it, it was VERY spicy. Being native to the desert, I do enjoy a good kick! After baking the lamb bathed in marinade for 4 hours, it was AMAZING!! This dish came out so delicious. It was not too hot! My sister describes this dish as being very complex and delicious.

    I also tried the Raita and Basmati Rice, everything was splendid!

    I made your flourless chocolate cake in honor of love and my sweet love of chocolate!

    Thank you so much for such sweet directions!

    I do have questions. Are the curry leaves supposed to be fresh? Any suggestions for using dried leaves if fresh are not availble?

    Is the fenugreek for the Lamb Curry leaves or seeds?

    Thanks again for the inspiration!!

    • Hi Zeniguri!
      I prefer fresh curry leaves. Although I keep extras in the freezer and use them when I don’t have fresh. Dried leaves will substitute OK.
      Fenugreek is seeds

  • I made the cardamom ice cream last night for dessert to follow a coconut lamb curry with garlic naan dinner. It is simply amazing! Thanks for the recipe.

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