Friday, June 1, 2007

Lamb Chops in Yogurt with Whole Spices; Potato Patties (aloo-ki-tikiya)

For once, I actually made a lamb dish with lamb! Very exciting. And my dear husband Joe made a trip to the Indian grocery store, so we filled in a few of the gaps in our spice cabinet. (International Foods at 42nd and Walnut-- check them out!) I finally have cardamom pods and fenugreek seeds! Woo! And let me tell you, cardamom pods? They're magical. They smell wonderful and they add so much flavor to a simmering sauce... I'm actually a little annoyed with myself for making so many recipes with crappy-ass cardamom powder instead of the real deal. Sigh. No matter-- I have lots of pods now!

The lamb had to simmer for an hour, so while Joe was out returning our car, I started chopping. This was a deceptively simple dish. Here's what you do: Mix 4 tbsp yogurt with water and set aside. Brown your lamb chops in the pan. Set aside. Fry the spices-- a cinnamon stick, a red pepper, cloves, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. (We also got some decent dried red peppers-- the old ones from the grocery store in Queens just weren't giving off much flavor. These, on the other hand...) Put in your chopped ginger and garlic. (My ginger got moldy, so I had to break out the emergency jar. Yes, that's right, I keep an emergency jar of ginger in my fridge. What are you laughing at?) Fry for a minute, then throw in your chopped green coriander. Let it wilt for a bit, then put the lamb chops back in. Pour the watered-down yogurt into the pan, add salt, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cover. Check it every ten minutes, stir a bit, whatever it seems to need.

That's pretty much it. This was nice and low-maintenance. The lamb came out really tender and moist and just a hair above medium rare. I realized just now, while writing this, that in halving the recipe, I got a bit confused and added too much water to the yogurt, which may be why the sauce was really thin. I didn't treat it like a sauce, more like a poaching liquid, and that worked out well.

Then there were the potatoes. Madhur Jaffrey recommends boiling the potatoes whole two hours before dinner, then chopping and mashing them about half an hour before showtime. But I had to work late tonight, and Joe had to run to South Philly to pick up a package from UPS, so our potatoes got chopped, boiled and mashed in quick succession. They sat for maybe twenty minutes while I dealt with their filling.

The filling: this is a recipe that requires some advance planning. You have to soak 3 tbsp of urad dal for 24 hours. The problem with such recipes is that I'm a total slacker, and if it's been a rough day and I have cramps and I worked late, I'm liable to put off the dinner I'd planned and order takeout. Which is what happened yesterday and the day before. So by the time I got around to making this dish, my dal had been soaking in a glass of water on the counter for three days. There was a funky, bubbly skin of lentil starch that had formed at the surface of the water, and the whole thing smelled like it might have fermented just a bit. But they looked fine and the texture was right, so I decided to give it a shot. (Very unusual-- I'm normally a bit of a paranoid freak when it comes to food safety. I've had some bad experiences.)

Turned out the urad dal was just fine. I put a few fenugreek seeds in hot oil-- those smell great too, by the way. Then I added chopped onions and a pinch of cayenne pepper-- the recipe calls for green chilies, but we didn't have any. You're supposed to let the onions get just a bit brown at the edges, then put in the coriander. I cooked everything at the correct heat, etc., and put the coriander in just as the onions got brown at the edges, but I found that by the time I'd reached for the coriander the onions were close to burning. I had to turn the heat down very quickly to save them. I was using the cast iron pan, which I suspect conducts heat better than the average frying pan. So dear readers, if I have convinced you to use cast iron (which, I admit, is one of the secret goals of this blog), keep that in mind. OK, so you fry all that for just a little bit, then put the (drained! not wet anymore!) dal in the pan and keep stirring for five minutes or so. Madhur says it'll all turn into one big lump in the pan, but that didn't happen-- I suspect she used a smaller pan than I did.

While you're doing that, your potatoes are resting. Wake them up and bring them over to a cutting board or other useful surface. Divide them into balls-- Madhur Jaffrey calls for 12, I halved the recipe and did 6. Now take a ball and flatten it in your palm. Take a spoonful of the dal mixture and put it right in the center, then gently, gently form the potatoes into a ball with the dal at the center. Then flatten it out (again, gently) so that you have a nice little potato pancake with a spicy dal center.

Meanwhile, put just a bit of oil in your cast iron pan, which you cleaned out after making the dal. Once it's hot, put the patties in. Make sure to leave them some room. I had six patties, but ended up only making four because I didn't have time to do two panfuls. (Pansful?)

Once the patties are in the oil, LEAVE THEM ALONE. 8-10 minutes. Just let 'em sit, with the heat on medium low. My potatoes were a bit less thick than I'd like, probably because we made them at the last minute, and I was concerned that things were so liquid-y that a crust wouldn't form. Silly me, I should have trusted in the amazing crust-forming abilities of my cast iron pan. The crust was lovely and golden brown. Once that forms, it's time for a flip-- a fish spatula (flat, slotted metal) is ideal, just be eeeever so careful when you turn them over. These have a tendency to break if you're not really gentle.

There it is, that's your dinner. Plate and serve. We had this with a Flying Fish Belgian-Style Dubbel, which I think went particularly well with the potatoes. The potatoes had a nice little kick from the cayenne, and the combination of crunchy crust, smooth inside potato and spicy, slightly crunchy dal was delicious and fun to eat. It went well with the lamb, too-- I still can't believe how tender that lamb was! We got it at Trader Joe's-- I'm always happy with their lamb chops.

Things to consider for next time:
1. When halving the recipe, halve the freakin' recipe. If you accidentally use twice as much water as you need, your sauce will be too thin. Duh.
2. Real spices make a real difference. As does freshness.
3. If Madhur says to do something ahead of time, she probably has her reasons. I saved the two patties I didn't cook tonight-- I'm going to make them this weekend and see how their time in the fridge changes their behavior in the pan. Purely for scientific inquiry, of course, it has nothing to do with the way they melt in your mouth... mmm... aloo ki-tikiya...

If attempting to describe a tasty meal turns you into Homer Simpson, that's a good sign, right?

There had been talk of grilled mangoes (Mexican, we still haven't landed Indian mangoes) and ice cream for dessert, but we ate late and then Joe fell asleep on the couch, so I think we'll have to save that for tomorrow.