Recipe: Lamb, Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry with Almonds and Saffron

I really don’t understand curries very well, which is why I’ve just bought myself a book all about curries from around the world.  You would think, then, that I’d follow the recipes in them, and indeed that was my intention, but basically I screwed up.  The curry I was going to make was a simple lamb curry with almonds and saffron, because I had diced lamb to use up, but it used twice the amount of lamb I had.  No worries – I would just halve the recipe.  Except that I forgot to do so, and once I had measured out the saffron water and started cooking all the onions and garlic and ginger – which I had accidentally doubled instead of halved anyway, hello, virus-brain! – and spices it was too late to go back without waste.

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So I decided to bulk out the curry with chickpeas and sweet potato.  After all, I don’t like stews of any kind that are just meat, meat and meat, sweet potato seemed like it would get along with all the sweet aromatic spices in this dish, and chickpeas are always a good random filler protein in my book.  Also, this lowers the glycemic index of the dish *and* makes it suddenly a lot closer to a one-pot meal (by which I mean that the ongoing Sickly Catherine feels empowered not to make a vegetable side dish now, which is a very good thing).  And then I looked at the cream added at the end of the recipe, and thought about the fact that I don’t like creamy sauces much and that I had this tin of coconut cream from goodness-knows-when sitting in my pantry waiting to be used, and…

I’m fairly sure we have lost any authenticity along the way (which is why I am not claiming that this is a Kashmiri curry, despite what the book says), but I have to say, it’s the best curry that I’ve ever made.  I strongly suspect that the slow cooker was an important part of this – the spices seemed to blend and work together rather than sitting awkwardly in different corners of the room, squinting sideways at each other.  That’s not what usually happens when I make a curry.  So, while a slow cooker is not a requirement for this recipe, I do recommend cooking it over the lowest heat possible for as long as possible if you don’t have one.

Still, next time, I *promise* I will follow the recipe properly.

I can do that, you know.

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2 tsp saffron threads
1 1/2 cup hot water
8 green cardamom pods
2 tsp dried cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola or sunflower oil
3 onions
3 cloves of garlic
about 2 cubic inches of ginger root
2 dried chillis
500 g cubed lamb shoulder or other stewing lamb
salt and pepper which I entirely forgot to put in, but you might want to
500 g sweet potato
Either 1 cup of dried chickpeas, partly cooked (of which more later) or 1 tin of chickpeas, which you will add at the end of the recipe
120 g blanched almonds
270 ml (a medium-sized tin – don’t get too hung up on measuring this) coconut cream

Now what will you do with it?

With a recipe that has this many ingredients, I like to go all mise-en-place before starting, or I get stressed out.  So start by putting your saffron threads in a bowl and pouring the hot water over them to infuse.

saffron

If you are using dried chickpeas, well.  You want to par-cook them, really, as they will cook a fair bit more during the recipe.  I tried to use my pressure cooker, but it was having a contrary day, so my method, which I am not sure I can recommend, involved boiling them for 20 minutes with 4 cups of water at what was not at all a suitably high pressure but did leave them mostly cooked but on the crunchy side.  I am fairly sure you can replicate this by boiling them hard for 20 minutes to half an hour (no soaking needed), but the easy option would definitely be to use a 400 g tin of chickpeas or 400 – 500 g cooked chickpeas and add them with the almonds later on.

Measure all the spices from cardamom to turmeric into a small bowl.  This will lessen your sense of panic when you suddenly have to add all the spices and can’t find half of them.  Also, now is a really good time to realise that you are out of cardamom pods, as opposed to right when you want to add them.  Not that I would know anything about that.

Note the presence of cardamom pods!

Note the presence of cardamom pods!

Slice your onions finely and mince your garlic and ginger.  Finely chop your dried chilli.  Please, please, take my advice and use gloves for this.  I don’t know what it is about dried chilli that makes it so much more evil than the fresh kind, but I have been washing my hands obsessively all day with soap and with oil and even with milk and I’m *still* making my face tingle painfully when I touch it, and rubbing my eyes has led to quite agonising results.  Learn from my mistakes!

Cube your meat if it wasn’t pre-cubed.  Leave the sweet potato for now, because it is inclined to discolour if left peeled at room temperature, and it won’t take you too long anyway.

Now for the cooking part!

onion

Heat the oil in a frying pan or on the browning option on your slow cooker (don’t panic, by the way, if you don’t have a slow cooker – this will work fine on the stove, it will just take less time), and add the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli.  Cook briskly, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and golden in places.  This will take about five minutes and might be when you start peeling and cubing your sweet potato, incidentally, or you can do it after adding the lamb.  Think half inch cubes or so.

Add the spices and stir briefly until fragrant.

addspice

Add the meat and sweet potato cubes and continue stir-frying for a few minutes to brown.  Don’t worry if you are still chopping up and adding sweet potatoes during this time – it doesn’t need as much colour as the meat does anyway.

When the meat is mostly browned (another five minutes, perhaps), take the frying pan off the heat and transfer everything in it to your slow cooker or a large, stove-top casserole (Le Chasseur or the like), along with the chickpeas and the saffron with its water.  The water will not cover everything.  That’s OK, because this is going to be cooked covered.

If you are using the slow cooker, set it for 6-8 hours, depending on what time of day you started and when you want dinner – really, it will only get better with time.  On a stovetop, 2-3 hours should be ample, and I’d use a heat diffuser, if possible, and cook this stew covered and on the lowest heat possible.  You want the meat to be really tender and the sweet potatoes to be soft.

cooker

You can stir this occasionally as it cooks, but you don’t have to.  Though if you are using the stove and no heat diffuser, I’d recommend giving it a quick stir every half hour or so, just in case it is trying to stick.

About half an hour before the end of the slow cooker cooking time (or whenever you feel that the meat is done if you are doing the stovetop version), toast your almonds quickly in a dry frying pan and add to the curry along with the coconut cream (hint: if your coconut cream is too thick to stir in well, scrape it out into the pan which just had the almonds in it – even with the heat off underneath, there will be enough heat to melt the coconut cream to a stirrable consistency).

Stir everything again and leave it to finish cooking – about 15 more minutes on the stove, and half an hour longer for the slow cooker.  (If you are doing the slow cooker version, think in terms of starting your meal preparation just before lunchtime, though it would also be quite fine with everything going into the cooker before work, I’d think.  You might want to make sure the it switches to a keep warm function after 8 or 9 hours, though.

done

Serve with basmati rice and a sense of achievement.  Some stir-fried asian greens or cauliflower with panch poron would probably be good, too, but I’m lazy, and I’m here to tell you it was perfectly fine without.

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Variations

This curry is dairy and egg free, gluten free (though do check that your garam masala spice mix doesn’t contain any gluten – it shouldn’t, but one never knows) and low-GI.  It is, self-evidently, not vegetarian, though with all the different flavours going on here, I am pretty sure you could get away with swapping tofu or seitan in place of the lamb, at which point it would be vegan.  The almonds are rather gorgeous, but not strictly necessary, so if you need to avoid nuts, just leave them out.

I think the onions and sweet potatoes would cause problems for someone who is avoiding fructose; you could skip the onions and add two more cloves of garlic and a bulb of fennel, and of course, the sweet potato is more or less optional.  Actually, ordinary potato might be a more traditionally Indian option anyway.

Also, Andrew feels that the coconut was a bit excessive (he doesn’t like coconut); I actually quite liked the effect, though it probably did take a slightly more starring role than it needed to, so if you don’t much like coconut, I’d recommend using half coconut cream and half almond milk.  And I’m fairly sure that if what you have in your pantry is light coconut milk and no coconut cream at all, that would probably also work.

Enjoy!

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Two years ago: Review: Agnes and the Hitman, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Meyer

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4 responses to “Recipe: Lamb, Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry with Almonds and Saffron

  1. I would love this minus the lamb! Like you I’m not particularly expert at curries, but anything with chickpeas and sweet potato gets a tick from me 🙂

    Also, I just read your comment about Darwin and that really was a terrible 5 hour run. No wonder you’re not keen to go back! How awful.

    • This blog is going to be seeing a lot more curries in the near future, and a lot of them will be vegetarian – for one thing, I just bought a book about slow cooker curries from around the world, and for another, I apparently won a curry hamper from Oxfam (of which more later – I figure I’ll blog about it when it actually arrives). Combine these with the fact that I’ve just cooked my first truly successful curry, and I think we know what the next few weeks are going to be about in my kitchen!

      As for Darwin, it really really was! The worst of it is that my best friend was up there at the same time and loved it so much that she’s moved there permanently! (We have a terrible track record, she and I – I don’t think we’ve spent more than twelve months in the same city since we were both eighteen. Though at least moving to Darwin is more consistent than complaining about Melbourne’s cold weather and then continually spending years living in Germany…)

  2. My only claim to knowing anything about curry is that a kind friend send me a bunch of little cookbooks and pamphlets from Devon Street in Chicago, by people from India, with names like “Cooking the Punjabi Way,” and I absorbed a lot of their principles.

    That said, I thought I’d mention that I do this all the time — that is, I take a curry that has protein but not much in the way of vegetables, double everything except the protein, and add whatever vegetables seem right to roughly the same weight as the protein has. Spinach and cauliflower work really well for many vegetarian proteins, but I’ve also done sweet potato and spinach, potatoes and peas, green beans, carrots, and potatoes, and so on.

    I also find that sometimes, though not always, you don’t have to double the oil. It depends on how long and how slowly they want you to fry the onions, if there are any.

    This sounded delicious, even though I couldn’t eat it, which I have always used as a standard against which to measure recipe writing.

    P.

    • Wow, that’s quite a compliment – thank you! And thank you for your advice, which is very welcome.

      I’ve decided that it’s definitely time for me to start absorbing some principles, because I’ve been happily living in the world of Italian and Mediterranean / Middle Eastern cooking for a long time, but have never ventured much towards the Indian and Asian food cuisines which are so popular in Australia. But getting the spices to blend is the big trick. And yes, cookbooks written by people from India also seem like a good idea (I have a lovely vegetarian Indian cookbook that goes region by region, but it’s very traditional, in the sense that a lot of the food seems to take hours to prepare, or perhaps that’s just my incompetence in the genre, so I don’t use it much).

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