My love for Indian food developed while growing up in Branford, Connecticut and frequenting Darbar, where my sister and I religiously ordered Chicken Tikka Masala, Basmati Rice, Naan, and Gulab Jamun without question. So it was not actually Indian food as a whole that I fell in love with but rather this exact meal as an entire food genre in itself. Sadly for my tastebuds, I moved away from Branford when I was a teen but always made it a priority to indulge in memories at Darbar whenever I re-visited.
Luckily over the years, I have stumbled upon a few beautiful diamonds in the rough (the rough being the world beyond Darbar): Curries in Liverpool, England, Taste of the Himalayas in Berkeley, California, Nawab Indian Cuisine in Roanoke, Virginia (if you can believe it!) and Bihari, Eastern Food Bazaar, the Indian Food on UCT Medical Campus, and Cyril’s Curry Cooking Class (talk about alliteration) in Cape Town. However, I have yet to taste a Chicken Tikka Masala that rivals Darbar’s but will continue my fervent search and hopefully make it back to Darbar one day.
Forever ago I made a conscious decision never to cook my own Chicken Tikka Masala out of fear of creating a dish that was disappointingly inferior. However, Cyril’s Curry Cooking Class taught me the fine art of making curries and I now feel confident that I could tackle Chicken Tikka Masala should the perfect recipe present itself to me.
Jacquie, my number one cooking partner (besides Ty), and I excitedly signed up for Cyril’s class and every week for one month, Cyril taught us recipes and techniques that his mother taught him, which we will pass on to our children, and our children will pass on to their children, and the tradition will continue. We brought wine, cooking tools, main ingredients, and enthusiasm. Cyril provided the expert insight and beautiful homemade spices from his mother and Atlas Trading Company. At the beginning of the course we were given an in-depth lesson about the botanical origin of Indian spices, the forms, and flavors. By the end of the course, we had made about a dozen curries, half a dozen salads, breads, rice dishes, and desserts, all of which where absolutely divine, complex, unique, and most importantly, relatively easy to tackle at home without Cyril’s supervision (I hope).
Out of all the many dishes we cooked, my favorite was the Lamb Curry
Ingredients (serves 2 + leftovers)
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 roughly chopped onion
- 2 large tomatoes grated
- 1/4-1/2 cup water
- 4 star anise petals – the dried unripened fruit of a Southern Chinese tree that is 13x sweeter than sugar
- 1 piece of cassia bark – the dried outer bark of a Cassia (Chinese cinnamon) tree
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cloves – the dried unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree and is “the most pungent of all spices”
- 1 tsp ginger/garlic paste
- 2 tsp turmeric powder – a rhizome from the ginger family that is “nature’s most vibrantly colored spice”
- 2 tbsp curry powder – a western term, non-existant in India, which comprises a mixture of spices such as chillies and turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala – added to the dish at the end of cooking “to add a final touch of aromatics”
- 1 packet of lamb cut into cubes with bone attached
- 2 green chillies (optional)
- Add oil to pot, bring to medium heat, and add whole spices (star anise, cassia bark, cloves, and bay leaf). This process is called “tempering” which allows for the spice flavors to release and infuse in to the oil. Once the spices have been tempered you can remove them from your dish or keep them in if you are not fussed.
- Add onions and fry in oil until golden brown
- Add ginger/garlic paste
- Immediately add turmeric followed by curry powder
- Add the grated tomatoes
- Allow this to braise until oil seeps to the top of the surface and tomatoes are cooked
- Gently add in the lamb and the green chillies if you can handle the heat
- Add water, reduce heat, and cook for 30 minutes (the longer you cook, the softer and scrumptious the meat)
- When you are ready to turn off the plate, stir in the garam masala gently, and garnish with fresh coriander and salt to taste
Serve your Lamb Curry with Tomato Sambal, “a perfect accompaniment to curry dishes”
Ingredients (serves 2 + leftovers)
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 2 chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 chopped cucumber
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 handful of finely chopped fresh coriander
- salt to taste
mix all of the ingredients together, add in the vinegar, and season with a dash salt