The Korma is an ubiquitous item on Indian restaurant menus – like Chinese restaurants, or Thai restaurants the complex, regional and varied cuisines of a nation have been boiled down into items that appear on each and every take away menu. Claudia Roden has written about British curry houses in her essay Food In London, about the 1970s and a time when Bengali dockers where laid-off en-mass and began opening little cafés in the East End of London. She writes, “The Bangladeshis who manned the kitchens had no catering experience, they made up dishes and adapted them to English tastes.” In some restaurants, there was one ‘master’ pot of sauce that was used for each dish, with just an addition of a different meat and varying amounts of chilli powder. I like the idea that I can get a Korma in every town in Australia, or a lemon chicken in a regional Chinese restaurant, or a green curry in a Thai restaurant. Often these are the only place to eat (other than the pub) in regional Australia.
This recipe comes from The Curry Cookbook, Charmaine & Reuben Solomon, a book my brother and I bought for my mum when we were small. Looking at it now, I love how there are little comments at the beginnings of each recipe – a delightful commentary between husband and wife. Above one recipe Charmaine writes, “Even people who don’t like eating liver find it most palatable when prepared this way.” And Reuben above the next, “A great many ingredients. True. But the end product is worth the effort.” Adorable.
My mum has rediscovered the book and we ate the Korma at her house in the far north in April. It was perfect for the evening, which was humid and pouring with torrential rain. The use of macadamia nuts gives it the beautiful mild creamy flavour, without the heaviness. The spice mix is really lovely, though it does require some sort of food processor – or a very strong arm and a mortar and pestle. The saffron adds sweetness, and fragrance. When I came home I brought the recipe book back with me and Sarah and I made the curry over cold winter evenings. But the spices are perfect for summer, perfect to eat on the porch in the late sunlight with a beer. Of this dish Charmaine writes, “One of the classic dishes of India and well worth trying.”
The Curry Cookbook, Charmaine & Reuben Soloman
2kg boned leg of lamb, cut into cubes, with any excess fat trimmed off
2 medium onions, one sliced finely – the other diced roughly
1 tbsp ginger, chopped finely
2 tsp garlic, chopped finely
¼ cup macadamias (the original recipe uses cashews)
2-6 dried chillies, seeded
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp saffron strands
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp oil
2 tsp salt
½ cup natural yoghurt
2 tbsp fresh coriander, torn roughly
Put the roughly diced onion in the food processor with ginger, garlic, macadamias, and chillies. Add ½ cup of water to it, cover and blend to a paste. Add all the ground spices and blend for a few seconds longer.
Put the saffron strands into a small bowl, pour a little boiling water over and allow to soak.
Heat the ghee and oil in a large saucepan and when pan is hot put in the finely sliced onion and fry, stirring frequently until soft and golden. Add the blended spice mixture and continue to fry, stirring constantly until the spices are well cooked, fragrant and the oil starts to separate from the mixture. Wash out food processor with an extra ¼ cup of water and add to the pan together with salt and continue to stir and fry until the liquid dries up once more.
Add the meat and stir over medium heat until each piece is coated with the spice. Stir the saffron, crushing the strands against the side of the bowl and add this to the pan. Stir to mix well. Add yoghurt and stir again until evenly mixed. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook at a gentle simmer for an hour or until meat is tender. (You might need to add a little water.) Stir occasionally, taking care that the spice mixture doesn’t catch to the base of the pan. When lamb is tender, sprinkle with coriander, replace lid and cook for 5 minutes longer.
Serve with the best basmati rice you can find. In Melbourne, outer suburban Indian grocers are perfect places to source excellent bulk rice and homemade roti.