Friday, February 27, 2009

Hot Dry Meat Curry

I don't normally try to grow things. I do not own plants, I don't have a vegetable garden or a windowsill full of herbs. I'm not the Martha Stewart homemaker type with a clean crafty home. I cook and that's about all the homey stuff I do.
But if you saw this in my fridge, you might think I was trying to grow something:

You might think to yourself, how sad that Shalaka doesn't know her plant has died. But really all I'm doing is extending the life of my cilantro. Cilantro is not expensive. But you buy a bunch of it and use a few leaves chopped into your homemade guacamole or sprinkled in a curry (see below) and before you know it the bunch is turning brown and leaking something across the bottom of your fridge. Oh cilantro, how fleeting is your life.

So now I put my cilantro on life support. A glass of water is all it takes. This cilantro is about three weeks old, wilted but not going bad. There are still plenty of leaves to sprinkle into my Hot Dry Meat Curry.

If you think that I'm writing about this recipe because of its name, you'd be correct. I'm also writing about it because it was surprisingly tasty. But the name is ridiculous! There was never a more generic name for a recipe than Hot Dry Meat Curry. Most curries are hot. Many curries have meat. The word that got me was Dry. A meat curry is usually saucy and wet. Curry spices can be used on meats that are roasted or fried but when the dish is called a curry, it seems like an oxymoron to call it a dry curry. So the name and the fact that I had nearly all the ingredients convinced me that I should make it. Besides, my cilantro was in top form.

An aside on Indian food: I don't cook Indian food very often but I do have a couple of good cookbooks plus I can call my mom any time and get a random recipe without measurements. The fact that recipes require a lot of ingredients and spices, time to marinate, and time to stew make it unlikely that I'll choose anything but the most straightforward of recipes. What could be more straightforward than Hot Dry Meat Curry?

The recipe called for extra hot curry paste and the only thing I could think of to fit that description was the red curry paste usually used in Thai curries. To that I added chili powder, five spice powder, turmeric, bay leaves, and the usual onion, garlic and ginger. So the Hot part was covered. To take care of the Meat part, I added lamb shoulder chopped, with the bone. But in contrast to the Dry part, the recipe did call for coconut milk, which is added after the meat has cooked for 20 minutes. Then the meat and spices are simmered in coconut milk until the meat is cooked, and finally the liquid is reduced. Aha! Hot Dry Meat Curry at last, though if you're impatient like me you'll still end up with some good liquid curry to sop up with your naan. Don't forget to garnish with cilantro.

Hot Dry Meat Curry (from The Complete Book of Indian Cooking)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 piece fresh ginger, crushed
4 cloves garlic, crushed
6-8 curry leaves (I used bay leaves)
3 tablespoons extra hot curry paste (I used Thai red curry paste)
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
2 lbs lean lamb, beef or pork
3/4 cup coconut milk
chopped tomato and cilantro leaves, to garnish

The recipe doesn't require marinating, but I like to marinate my lamb overnight so it tastes better. A typical Indian marinade is ginger, garlic, salt, chili powder, and turmeric.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion, ginger, garlic and curry leaves until the onion is soft. Stir in the curry paste, chili powder, five-spice powder, turmeric, and salt and cook for a few moments, stirring frequently. Add the meat and stir over medium heat to brown the pieces. Keep stirring until the oil separates. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Add the coconut milk, mix well and simmer until the meat is cooked. Toward the end of cooking, uncover the pan to reduce the excess liquid. Garnish and serve hot.

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