Lamb Curry with Potatoes

As cold as it is in Chicago in winter, there are some advantages to living in a place colder than a meat locker. One of my favorite sights is a winter sunrise on a shatteringly cold, clear morning. Sunday was just such a morning, and I raced out of bed and into my coat just in time to catch the last of the perfect golden sunrise. The sun shimmering on the wall of ice in front of our building was just stunning.

I think that our cold, gray winters are a gift to introverts like me. I don’t mind winter all that much, even on the extremely cold days – I know how to stay warm (thanks to LL Bean), and there’s a beauty to the snowy winter landscape – especially living on the Lake. The many moods of the Lake are beautiful to watch, and none more beautiful to me than when the ice rolls in from far out in the lake, and the water comes crashing up against the ice berm that forms on the beach. As the waves slap the ice, the water sprays high into the air and the sound of the crashing ice against waves is the best bedtime lullabye.

Without good weather and sunshine every day, I don’t feel guilty for wanting to curl up with a good book and cup of tea to spend an afternoon on the couch. The social calendar slows down as the weather grows cold and allows me to recharge my social batteries…and sometimes that means spending a quiet morning making the perfect lamb curry.

This curry requires quite a few steps, but the final product is so worth it – this curry has the depth of flavor I’ve only tasted in Indian Restaurants. I learned from Sabera that the secret to a truly authentic curry is to make your own curry paste…and she’s right. The time it takes to stir the spices, onions and tomatoes to develop the curry paste is what makes a flavorful gravy for the final dish. I tried to keep the calorie count under control by minimizing the amount of oil used, and eliminating the dairy in the recipe – it doesn’t need it anyway. Give this curry a try next time you want to spend a morning meditating at the stove.

Lamb Curry with Potatoes
Serves 5

2 1/2 cups yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1″ pieces
1 lb lamb stew, trimmed of most fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 onions – one grated (or blitzed in the food processor), one sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 T fresh grated ginger
2.5 T safflower oil, divided
1 14oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
2 T tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
4 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 jalepeno, seeded and sliced
kosher salt to taste
cilantro for garnish
serve over brown rice

  1. In a mortar and pestle, combine the mustard seeds, cardamom and cumin. Bash the spices around a bit to create a coarse grind. Pick out the husks of the cardamom pods and set the spice mixture aside.
  2. Preheat the broiler and set a sheet pan in the oven while it preheats. Peel and cube the potatoes into bite sized pieces. Place the potatoes in a small mixing bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon of safflower oil and a sprinkle of salt. When the broiler is preheated, remove the sheet pan from the oven and spray lightly with oil. Spread the potatoes onto the pan in one layer and broil for 6-7 minutes to par-cook the potatoes – they should not be cooked all the way through, just get a head start on cooking, and the quick roast will help them keep their shape instead of getting water-logged. After 6-7 minutes under the broiler, remove the potatoes and set aside. While the potatoes cook, sear the meat.
  3. Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat. While it’s heating, sprinkle the cubed lamb with a bit of salt. Add 1 T of the safflower oil to the pot, and when it’s shimmering, add about half of the meat to the pot in one layer – don’t crowd the meat. Sear for 2 minutes without stirring, then turn the meat pieces and sear for 1 more minute on the other side. Remove the lamb from the pot and set aside in a bowl. Add the last half of the meat and sear on both sides, then set the meat aside.
  4. Keep the pot on medium heat, and remaining tablespoon of oil and grated onion. Saute for 3-4 minutes, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, and allowing the onions to turn golden and begin to caramelize. Next, add the tomato paste, jalepenos, garam masala, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, black pepper and garlic. Stir for a minute until fragrant. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and stir. Allow the mixture to cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally – the mixture will cook down into a thick, flavorful paste.
  5. After cooking the curry paste, add the chicken stock, sliced onion, lamb and potatoes. Stir to combine. Cover the pot and simmer on low for 30-45 minutes, until lamb and potatoes are tender. Season with salt as needed. Serve over brown rice and garnish with cilantro.

383 cal per 1 1/4 cup, 130 cal from fat, 14.8g fat, 90mg cholesterol, 400mg sodium, 780mg potassium, 31g carb, 3g fiber, 8g sugars, 31.3g protein

Indian Spiced Red Lentil and Rice Soup

On my way home from a long week in the office this evening, I somehow managed to get a train without heat. December is giving us a cold start to the holiday season here in Chicago, so between the meat locker-like train and the walk home, I needed something to thaw my chilled bones. The Friday night fridge is a lean proposition since I go to the market on Saturdays; dinner was either going to be another round of bacon-egg-slurry or some kind of soup since I had a quart of stock sitting in the fridge waiting for inspiration.

Heidi Swanson posted a recipe for Red Lentil Soup a couple months ago that seemed intriguing. I’d filed it in the back of my mind on the “culinary to-do list,” but didn’t give it another thought until my friend Emily tweeted that she loved the soup and had already made two pots of it. I trust Emily’s opinions on soup, so I knew this one had to be on the menu soon.

This lentil soup doesn’t call for much in the way of ingredients, so I chopped an onion and some garlic and was on my way. I decided to give Heidi’s recipe an Indian twist with some freshly toasted and ground spices, and WOW, it really turned up the volume on the flavor in the soup. I love Indian daals, and this is very reminiscent of those flavors. This is a case where I would definitely recommend toasting and grinding the spices yourself – you want the flavors to be fresh and bold. Brown mustard seeds are one of my favorite Indian spices, and I don’t use them nearly enough – they add a peppery heat and totally change the character of the cumin and coriander in the dish, making a perfect harmony of heat and spice.

The soup cooks up pretty quickly and with minimal fuss, so you can easily make this on a weeknight. I also made some Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Cornbread to go with the soup. And I think that a bowl of soup and warm homemade bread is the perfect kick-off to the weekend.

Indian Red Lentil and Rice Soup
Serves 4
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Spice mix:
1 T brown mustard seeds, divided
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 T coconut oil or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 T parsley (dried or fresh)
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/3 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 cup brown rice
squeeze of lemon juice, or a tablespoon or two of red wine or champagne vinegar
salt to taste

Garnish: toasted slivered almonds, chopped cilantro

  1. Heat a small pan over medium heat. Pour the whole spices into the pan – cumin, coriander, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and half of the mustard seeds. Toast for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan often so that the spices don’t burn. When they begin to get fragrant, pour the spices into your spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a coarse powder. Set aside.
  2. In a big soup pot, over medium heat, add the coconut oil, remaining whole brown mustard seeds, onion and a pinch of salt. Saute the onions slowly and let them caramelize a bit, stirring occasionally – about 10 minutes of cooking time. When they start to brown, add the garlic and toasted spice mix. Stir for another minute or two, and when the spices are warm and very fragrant, add the chicken (or vegetable) stock. Cover, and bring to a boil.
  3. When the pot is boiling, add the lentils, rice and parsley. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender – about an hour. Stir the soup occasionally as it simmers. The red lentils will break down into almost a puree and will thicken the soup. If the pot gets too thick for you, add a little water. When the rice is tender, season the soup with salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar to brighten the flavor of the lentils, then serve. Garnish each bowl with toasted almonds and chopped cilantro.

470 cal per serving, 90cal from fat, 10g fat, 10mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 490 mg potassium, 69g carbs, 11g fiber, 10g sugars, 26.3g protein