Friday, January 27, 2012

Bengali lamb and chickpea curry

I haven't been buying a lot of cookbooks recently, because I was a bit worried about becoming one of those 101 cookbooks types: the sort of person who owns shelf after shelf of cookbook and makes one dish (at most) from each. However, I made an exception just before Christmas for Anirudh Arora and Hardeep Singh Kohli's Food of the Grand Trunk Road.

I have decided to take this one at face value and actually cook my way through the book from cover to cover (skipping, of course, any recipes which don't appeal or which I think the rest of the family won't enjoy). My idea is to take a culinary road trip journey along the GTR, from Bengal to the Punjab, without moving from the comfort of my own kitchen.

We started out last week with an egg curry with potatoes (aloo dimer jhol) which I liked but would have to say was not as good as either my standard egg curry or my patended egg vindaloo cold recipe. This week, me and Sammy tried our hand at this lamb and chickpea curry (mangsho ghugni) and the result was really good, even getting a thumbs-up from Carmela.

The basic technique and spices were all familiar to me, but the mustard oil (a signature Bengali ingredient) made it subtly different from any curry I had ever cooked before. I usually tweak any recipe I cook, but this time I have decided to stay as close to the book as is possible. Although the list of ingredients is quite long, almost all of them (apart from the mustard oil) should be in the cupboard of anyone who cooks Indian food with any regularity.

400g dried chickpeas
50ml mustard oil
2 bay leaves
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspooon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1kg boneless lamb (from the leg) cut into 2.5cm chunks
2 tsps minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsps chopped fresh coriander


  1. Soak the chickpeas in water overnight. The next day, change the water, bring to a boil, skim off any scum from the surface, and simmer covered for 1.5 hours. Drain, and reserve the cooking liquid for later.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the bay leaves, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, fry gently for 30 seconds or so, add the cumin seeds. When the pop, add the onion and fry gently until golden.
  3. Add the lamb pieces, turn heat back up to maximum and brown.
  4. Add the garlic and the ginger, cook for 3 minutes, then add the turmeric, ground coriander, chilli powder, ground cumin and salt. Fry for another 30 seconds or so, stirring well, then add the chopped tomatoes and enough of the reserved cooking liquid from the chickpeas so that the lamb is covered by about 1 cm of water.
  5. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook on minimum for 1 hour, unitl the lamb is tender.
  6. Add the cooked chickpeas and more liquid if required to cover them, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
  7. Serve, sprinkling each bowl with a little garam masala and chopped coriander.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Peanut and oatmeal dog treats

We have just acquired a dog. She is a little black labrador puppy called Ronia (named after a character in Astrid Lindgren's wonderful story Ronia the Robber's Daughter) and we are all besotted with her. She gets lots of cuddles and praise but the best way to a labrador's heart is through her stomach.

50g coarse peanut butter (salt and sugar free) 
1 tsp olive oil
185g low-salt ham or chicken stock
100g porridge oats
100g wholemeal flour
1oog plain white flour

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, mix together well and knead until you have a stiff dough. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool. Set the oven to 200oC.
  2. Divide the dough into two balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until it is about 1 cm thick, cut into small biscuits, and transfer to cookie sheets. Bake for about 15 minutes.
Cooking for the Queen
I have to admit I was actually quite nervous about these. Cooking for a loved one for the very first time is always a challenge because there is so much more than just a good meal at stake. While it is true that in our short time with us Ronia has not shown any signs of being a fussy eater, in some ways that only intensified the pressure. I think I can cope with the idea that my cooking may not be up to the standards of the man from the Michelin guide, but how would I feel if my biscuits were rejected by a diner who only the day before had been happily licking fresh bird poo off the garden wall? Needless to say, my fears were unfounded and Ronia wolfed them down, even becoming gratifyingly distressed when one of them disappeared between a gap in our floorboards.

Now where did that damn biscuit go?