A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a 50 hour working week, I went home to my parents for dinner. I walked in the front door and was immediately taken to the kitchen, being handed a glass of water and an iron pill en route. Mum pulled out of the oven her black casserole dish, lifted the lid and inside, lightly simmering, was a glossy, green lamb curry. The pieces of lamb were almost rounding out of their bite-sized cubes, the flesh becoming tender with flavour of the spices.
Mum handed me a spoon with a little bit of lamb, “Try this, though it may need more cooking time.” I was slightly dubious, to be honest. I thought the lamb might have needed more time to settle, to become more soft and tender. Mum tried a spoonful too, and we looked at each other, “yum!” was all that was said. I grabbed my camera and tried to capture in the last of the afternoon light the bright greens, the glistening oils, the specks of red chilli and the whole fennel seeds.
There is not a lot of meat dishes on this blog, partly because I don’t eat a lot of meat. I am what I call an unintentional vegetarian; I mean to eat meat, I do – medium rare steaks, baked chicken breast or thighs with herbs and lemon, pork chops with softly cooked onion and apples, lamb cooked low and slow with Mediterranean flavours – but on week nights if I have time to cook all I need is a pot of tender, flavoursome vegetables. Also, and I’m bearing all here, meat is very hard to photograph and make it appear vaguely appetising. My novice photography skills are tested at times.
A pot of tender, flavoursome vegetables, one that so easily could be puréed and called a soup, but remains thick and stew like, is what I call in not so eloquent terms, fridge raid supper. The idea of fridge raids appeal to me. Not in a Nigella-black-silk-dressing-gown-midnight-feast sort of a way, but more let’s open the fridge and see what catches my eye. This is how I like to cook, and how my mother likes to cook. In fact, I learnt this skill from her (it is most definitely a skill when there is not a lot in the fridge to work with as is usually the case). This free-style way of cooking is probably not all that conducive to great blog posts though, and on bad nights, not all that conducive to good dinners either. But it suits my life at the moment.
As my year wraps up there will hopefully be more time for cooking, slowly and carefully, enjoying the process. There will be time for eating with friends, and also treating myself to meals for one – meat, vegetarian, seafood and grains. I hope to find a bit more balance in my life through the meals I cook and eat. There will also be, God I hope so, more sleep and down time in my life. Meat alone is not going to fix the dark circles under my eyes. But in the meantime, there is my mother’s cooking.
My mother makes a good curry. They are not necessarily heavy handed on the spices; your nose won’t run and your eyes won’t water, but they hold their own in the flavour of herbs and aromatics. Anise, cumin, fresh coriander – leaves and roots, five spice, cinnamon, turmeric, fennel seeds, chilli… The spice cupboard at home is loaded and well used.
Green Curry (with lamb)
This recipe comes from possibly one of our most successful and well used cookbooks, Curry Easy by Madhur Jaffrey. This book is full of delicious curry recipes, which as the title suggests, are very easy to follow. The recipes for side dishes, especially those using vegetables, match well with so many meals.
A second note from my mother: This curry can also be made with chicken although the lamb is better matched to the longer cooking time and holds the flavours better. You need lots of coriander – a big bunch. Can be eaten with rice or flatbreads with a vegetable curry side.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
100 gram bunch of coriander (just a big bunch with roots)
2.5cm fresh ginger peeled and chopped
4 good sized cloves of garlic
3-4 hot green chillies – I use red most of the time however
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 medium onion
600 grams boneless lamb cut into 2.5cm pieces
120ml coconut milk – I have put this in once but prefer it without
Put lemon juice, 120ml of the water, the coriander, ginger, garlic, chillies, turmeric and salt into a blender in this order. Blend thoroughly pushing down with spatula until you have a fine paste.
Preheat oven to 160C. Put oil in a flame proof casserole and set over medium to high heat. When hot put in fennel seeds. A couple of seconds later, put in onions. Stir fry until they are brown at the edges. Add meat. Stir fry over high heat for 7-8 mintes or until meat is browned.
Add green sauce from the blender and bring to simmer. Cover and place in oven for 70 minutes – I have left in the oven for nearly 2 hours! Check after an hour however. If using coconut milk add now, reheat gently and then serve.