Back when my boyfriend lived in the East Village and we were broke graduate students with no clue how to cook, we ate a lot of cheap Indian food. Curry Lane was just around the corner and the thirty identical Bengali joints with their chili pepper lights and sitar players, their tooth-achingly sweet lassis, and cheap booze suited our purposes nicely.
The food at these places tended to be of the order of a few chunks of poor quality meat floating in a soup of curry sauce, served with gummy naan, and accompanied by a Kingfisher or rotgut red wine. I soon learned that vegetarian dishes at these places were a lot better than their meat dishes, and the malai kofta the best of the vegetarian curries. These are vegetable dumplings with potatoes, peas, carrots and other things globed together into balls and cooked in a curry sauce. This became my Curry Lane favorite and I rarely diverged from it.
We haven’t eaten on 6th Street in years. Good Indian food is hard to come by in general, and especially in Brooklyn. Why someone doesn’t open up a locavore Indian restaurant in Park Slope, I have no idea. It would be a huge hit. But for now I’ve got to do my own Indian cooking.
I found this recipe in Simon Hopkinson’s Second Helpings of Roast Chicken. Colonialization rears its ugly head again as I learn Indian cooking from an Englishman. This dish is not vegetarian, but made with ground lamb and a thousand times better than the greasy veggie dumplings I ate on 6th Street.
Serves six to eight.
Adapted from Second Helpings of Roast Chicken by Simon Hopkinson
This recipe appears simple. It’s not. It’s serious down home slow cooking so set aside a few hours for it. Just browning the onions and shaping the koftas took me over an hour. Worth it, of course, and it makes a huge amount that can be frozen if it’s not eaten immediately, but I don’t recommend it for one of these ninety-seven degree days we’ve been having.
4 large onions, peeled and diced
8 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons cooking fat
2 lbs ground lamb
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 egg, beaten
flour (or rice flour)
5 tablespoons butter
1 stick cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Juice of 3 limes
Bunch of mint leaves, chopped
1 cup beef or chicken stock.
1 14-ounce can of coconut milk
1.) Dry roast cumin and coriander seeds together until fragrant, then grind in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.
2.) Fry onions and garlic in fat until golden brown. Cool.
3.) Mix lamb with spices, pepper, salt, mint, egg and browned onion mixture.
4.) Form into balls the size of walnuts and roll in flour.
5.) In a large shallow pan (or two pans as pictured below) “quietly” fry koftas in butter until browned all over. Use two spoons to turn them.
6.) Put in cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom and fry for a minute.
7.) Add tomatoes and “sweat” for ten minutes, until soft.
8.) Add lime juice, mint, stock and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes, or until the coconut milk is thickened.
9.) Season and serve with jasmine rice.
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