If you are all “huh?” Just know that you’re in the middle of it. Diwali is the Indian Festival of Lights—a 5-day Hindu party that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The holiday involves lots and lots of candles and firecrackers.
I like to celebrate it every year by ordering Indian take-out. This year I went over to Dan and Jon’s house; we had a dinner of samosas, chicken vindaloo, naan, and vegetable biryani. They lit their kitchen with over a dozen candles. It was really lovely.
I didn’t make anything special for the festival of lights, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t share with you one of the Indian delights that I have prepared for DiS! Here is an oldie but a goodie–and my first foray into Indian cuisine: 50. Lamb Curry!
Originally appeared 3/18/11
Let me tell you a little story about me and curry. Imagine it–Pittsburgh, 1999. I had never eaten Indian food (my parents, at this time not being the most adventurous eaters, never ate Indian, so in turn I had never tried it. In fact, I was the one who introduced my father to the wonders of Japanese cuisine and he now a full-on sushi junkie). But my parents’ taste in food is neither here nor there.
Back to me and Indian food.
The first taste of Indian food I ever tried was out of a Styrofoam container. Not only that–it was from a shady place in the bottom floor of Building D (R.I.P) which was located in the darkest depths of Carnegie Mellon’s labyrinthine campus. You had to know someone to know about this place. To get this food was akin to following the whispering ladies of Chinatown into an alley to buy knock-off Chanel and Fendi.
To be quite honest, I don’t know if it would really qualify as Indian food–at least the Indian food to which I have become accustomed. I remember there being string beans in some sort of thick, orangey sauce, mystery meat in a similar sauce, rice and a pita. Not Naan, not Roti, but pita. Perhaps it was some sort of Indian/Pakistani/Lebanese hybrid. Or maybe it was your standard Indian food and I just don’t remember. That was more than a decade ago and my memory is like Lorraine cheese–the holes aren’t huge, but they are numerous.
Anyway, the underground Indian food didn’t sit too well with me and I grew to hate Indian food–curry especially. Being a student at a world-renowned university with a large number of international students, the food smells that permeated the halls of Cathedral Mansions (my roach infested palace for 3 glorious years) were odd, foreign, and sometimes gross. Which brings me to the curry. My roommate would buy these little, soft, plastic packets (like tuna packets) full of neon yellow curry sludge with unidentifiable chunks. Once on the stove top, this curry was on steroids. Its scent stuck to the plaster walls and the furniture, it stained all the dishes. I could smell it in my hair. Blech. It seemed the whole building at some point or another would reek of the dreaded curry. It made me nauseous. So for years the mere smell of curry would make me queasy, and if I ever did have Indian (when friends would insist on going) I would get some dry tandoori chicken, which always sucked.
I have two theories: either my tastes changed drastically in a 3 year period (which might be the case, since I like spicy foods now and never did before) or I just wasn’t ordering the right thing. When I lived in NYC, I was introduced to all things Indian-fabulous: the food, the beer, and Bollywood. If you’ve never been, I recommend that you eat on Manhattan’sCurry Row before you die. These restaurants make you feel like you’re one shiny ornament in an aluminum Christmas Tree (the link is right, Milan is the way to go).
I don’t know how to wrap my head around it, but Indian buffets make me terribly happy. I get actual cravings for biryani, paneer, and samosas. I now love the smell of curry. Therefore, I was a little excited that there was an Indian dish in Dinner is Served! and because it’s lamb (in our house we love us some lamb). One caveat: what do you think of when you imagine1970s Americanized Indian cuisine? Uh-oh.
It turned out to not be scary at all. Honestly, if it weren’t for the curry powder (of which I added a lot more than suggested, as well as chili powder, red pepper flakes, and garam masala), this was very similar to beef Stroganoff. It’s meat in a sour cream-based sauce that you put on top of a starch.
For this dish I had to sub lamb shoulder chops for the boneless lamb shoulder. It was a pleasant surprise that the Safeway carried any lamb at all. So I took the lamb and cubed it. Yes, the chops were obviously not boneless, but I like knuckle food, so some pieces did contain bone. Have you ever tried bone marrow (sorry vegans/veggies)? It is rich and buttery and silky and delicious and we were lucky enough to have some in this dish.
The salad: After the pea-celery-cucumber salad debacle, I went and found a recipe for Orange-Watercress salad. My Safeway doesn’t carry watercress (no surprise there), so I substituted arugula (a.k.a rocket) and used clementines in place of the oranges. Both the recipe and Dinner is Served! recommended that I peel and cut the orange segments out of the pith. What the hell? This was just messy and annoying. The dressing was basically a homemade honey mustard. I had honey mustard in the fridge so I just added some salt and pepper and vinegar to it. This salad was good. The sweetness of the clems and the honey mustard contrasted nicely to the peppery twang of the arugula. But this was unnecessarily complicated, next time I would just combine watercress (or arugula), a can of mandarin oranges, and store-bought honey mustard dressing. Boom. Done. Easy peasy (oh, let’s not bring up the peas again).
Since I have in past meals, I added a libation to this one as well. I made it up. I call it a Bourbon Masala. The ingredients are: 1 jigger bourbon, soda water, ice, and mandarin or clementine segments rolled in Garam Masala.
Roll the slices in the spice and then muddle them a bit in the glass. Add ice, bourbon and top off with soda water. This drink is not going to become the next Cosmopolitan, but it matched the theme of the meal and I got to use stuff that I had in the house already. It wasn’t bad. I think it would be a very summery way to serve whisky or bourbon if you have some in your liquor cabinet.
Back to the meal. The accompaniments and rice. Card #50 suggests: serve with hot rice and 4 or more accompaniments selected for variety in color and texture. Well, I wanted to use Basmati rice for this dish but, you guessed it, the Safeway didn’t carry any. So instead I used jasmine–which was great because I got a 5 lb. bag that is typically over $7 for $3.79. Winning!
For my accompaniments, I selected them based on what I had in the house: chopped green onions, chopped hard cooked eggs, toasted almonds, and raisins. It was serendipitous that these happened to have contrasting colors and textures.
Quick timeline: 5:15 cut meat, 6pm meat simmering in sauce, 6:30 cut oranges/make dressing, 6:40 put jasmine rice in microwave, 7:10 dinner is served.
Here is my final result, which I also think is one of my more successful photos:
Now don’t think that I forgot about the Banana Fluff. I did the fluff earlier that day. My version wasn’t bursting with banana flavor because guess what? The Safeway didn’t have strawberry-banana Jell-O! So the only banana element in this thing was one sad-looking mashed banana. It was tasty. Just a standard Jell-O desert salad. However the prevailing flavor was strawberry with a whisper of banana and pineapple.
So are all of my Jell-Os are going to end up looking like raw meat???