January 7, 2014

Feeling Closer to Friends Through Food

One of my very best friends moved late this Fall. She was the latest in a string of a few good friends who moved out of state this year. It has sucked. I keep my close friends so close that it's a big blow when they leave me. It kind of crushes me.

This friend happens to be Indian and has made us delicious Indian feasts on multiple occasions. She even bestowed upon me her freezer stash of homemade samosas before she moved (the only highlight of this terrible event).

Before she moved, I was watching her son one night and ended up feeding him leftover Indian food that they had in their fridge for dinner. It smelled so good, and I instantly had this aha moment that I needed to start cooking Indian food myself (well, the three of us).

So for the last couple of months, I've been making biryanis once in a while. I love Indian food, was feeling the need to try something new in the kitchen, and I've had Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries for a couple of years. But I think what really has been driving me to make Indian food is that it makes me feel closer to her while she's far away.

Is this starting to sound rather weepy? I should clarify a bit here. I didn't lose my friend. She'll always be a close friend no matter where she is. I've even gotten to see her a few times already since she has moved. She's moving back here in a couple of years! And if anyone printed our texts, they would probably stretch all the way from MN to AZ, where she lives now. So, she's still very much in my life. Just not for "Hey, I need to get out tonight. Want to get a drink?" or "Want to take the babies for a walk?" And I miss that.

But moving on...

I had made one recipe out of 660 Curries initially when I bought it and then put it away for a while. I think I was intimidated by the steps (making garlic paste, ginger paste, onion paste, spice mixtures, etc) and ingredient lists. But once you dig in, it's not rocket science. Just make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go before you start.

I've found my little niche for now with the biryanis, layered meat and rice dishes baked in the oven. My favorite one doesn't even require that the meat be seared or cooked before it goes in the oven. Which is good because I hate searing meat.

I've created a few shortcuts for myself with this recipe. Instead of making the ginger and garlic pastes like Iyer lays out, I simply grate the ginger and garlic with my microplane and have had great results. And once you make the Punjabi garam masala (if you make it from scratch, which I reco, you'll have enough to make the recipe a handful of times over.

I also like to use the bulk spice bins at Whole Foods for the spices to save money.

So anyway. If you have an Indian friend who moved who you miss terribly, make this, and serve it with naan and raita. You'll feel better.

Yogurt-Marinated Lamb with Rice, Saffron, and Mint, Adapted slightly from Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries
Serves 6 (barely :))

For the lamb:

1 lb boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 c plain yogurt
1/2 c fresh mint, chopped
1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp grated garlic
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Punjabi garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric

For the rice:

1 c basmati rice
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 green cardamom pods
2 dried bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 small red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp saffron threads
Scant 1 tsp salt

Vegetable oil

Marinate the lamb by combining all of the lamb ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

An hour before assembling the dish, put the rice in a medium sized bowl and cover by a few inches with cold water. Scrub the grains of rice with your fingers to wash off the rice. Drain using a fine mesh sieve. Repeat 4-5 times with fresh water, until the water drains clear after rinsing process. Then, cover rice with cold water and let sit for 1 hour to soften.

After an hour, heat the butter in a medium sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Toss in the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Stir and let cook until they start to smell nutty, about 20 seconds. Add onion and cook until they get light brown around the edges, about 3-5 minutes. Add the saffron and stir for a few seconds. Then add the drained rice and stir. Add 1 c cold water, along with the salt, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat a bit, and cook until there is no more water on the surface and craters start appearing on the top surface of the rice (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly oil a medium-sized covered casserole dish with vegetable oil.

Pour the lamb into the casserole dish, including any leftover marinade, creating an even layer. Then add the rice and spread it evenly over the lamb.

Cover and bake for 1 hour.

1 comment:

  1. Well that is just too sweet. You are right, Indian food is absolutely a labor of love - which is why I enjoy making it for you. Also - your Indian friend doesn't even make her own ginger/garlic paste or garam masala - but after reading your post, thinking maybe I should give it a shot! :)