A little while back I had a package of ground lamb sitting in my freezer begging to be used up. I finally figured out what to do with it when I read this post alerting me to the existence of Patel Grocery, a little Indian shop located in Sunset Park not too far from my home in the South Slope. Lamb plus Indian spices? Yes, please.
Not only do I love to eat Indian food--I might even declare it my favorite cuisine if I were willing to play favorites with food, which I am not--I love to cook it, too. Preparing Indian food is one of the few exceptions I find myself making to my general no-recipes rule of cooking. Indian recipes are complex, relying on a delicate and precise art of the layering of small amounts of potent, fragrant dried spices. The end result, when it turns out right, is incredibly flavorful and completely captivating.
You can't wing this stuff--or at least I can't. So when it's time for me to cook up some Indian fare, I turn to the masters: Julie Sahni or Madhur Jaffrey, both well established and well-respected food writers and cookbook authors. On this particular occasion, I opened my well-worn copy of Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking to the chapter on meat and found my way to a recipe entitled Safaid Keema, or Ground Meat in Scented White Sauce. In the recipe, ground lamb is simmered with onions, whole milk yogurt, chunks of potatoes, and (of course) a precise blend of dried ground spices. I was sold.
With my ingredient list in hand, my friend and dining companion on this particular occasion (and countless others) Gideon and I hopped on our bikes and pedaled the ten minutes to Patel Grocery. We found ourselves in a little store teeming with vegetables, spices, lentils and several varieties of rice--and one very friendly and generous owner. Once we had what we needed for dinner (plus several other impulse buys on my part), we biked furiously back to my apartment to answer the call of our empty bellies. About an hour later, our efforts were rewarded with a big pot of rich, warming lamb and potatoes, which we served over basmati rice and a bit of sauteed eggplant. My kitchen smelled like Indian food for days--and that's a good thing.
Safaid Keema (Ground Lamb in Yogurt Sauce)
Adapted from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground lamb
4 medium potatoes, quartered
1 cup frozen green peas
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. kosher salt
1. Heat the oil in a large, wide pan and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until the onions turn light golden brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
2. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Add the lamb, breaking it up in the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the meat loses all pink and begins to brown.
3. Add all the remaining ingredients except for the frozen peas, stir, and add 1 1/2 cups hot water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 20 - 30 minutes. Uncover and add the peas. Simmer, uncovered, for an additional 15 - 20 minutes. When sauce is thick, shut off the heat and serve over rice or with bread such as naan or poori.