There were soooo many choices for today! I was really stumped. I love hot and spicy food. I love hot and spicy drinks. I love hot and spicy.
Once upon a time, there used to be this store in Victoria called “From There to Here” which specialized in importing spices and, in particular, hot sauces from all over the world. They had an entire wall of hot sauces on display. On Saturdays, you could go down to the store and have hot sauce tastings; much like wine tastings. I took my dad and big brother there once for my dad’s birthday. They started us off with the mildest sauces – giving us little tiny samples on crackers – and then working up to the hottest ones. Kind of like one would start with the delicate whites and eventually work one’s way to the big, bold, earthy reds. It was a really fun day. By the time we were on to the craziest hot – the scotch bonnets and the habeneros – my brother and I had dispensed with the crackers and were happily dripping hot sauce on the heels of our hands and licking off the delicious liquid fire. Yummy!
Okay – we had a little heartburn later.
I am married to a Canadian-Trinidadian. It used to be that on every trip to Trinidad, his parents and siblings would return with vats of the most delicious pepper sauce in the world. The first time I had dinner with his family, I globbed a largish dollop of the stuff on the side of my plate and then happened to glance up to see the entire clan, all 500 of them (slight exaggeration), staring at me with a variety of expressions including shock, anticipation, dismay, gloating and amusement. I must say, I felt somewhat self conscious as I delicately touched my finger to the sauce and then to my mouth. WOOT! It was crazy hot! But also delicious. I ate all of it with my Trinidadian stewed chicken and rice. I was a bit flushed, I’ll admit. My nose ran a bit. I may have been sweating. But sooooo worth it. Unfortunately, the stupidly stringent new airport rules have pretty much precluded anyone’s ability to bring back homemade pepper sauce from Trinidad. It is a tragedy. We have the tiniest bit left from a trip last year and we hoard it jealously.
The Naparima Girls’ School Cookbook (the definitive source of all Trini cooking to which all good Trini cooks refer) has a recipe I keep meaning to try. My sister-in-law grows very hot thai peppers, so maybe this summer I’ll try to make a good Trini pepper sauce!
For today’s blog, I intended to make a Trini curry of some sort from that cookbook. But one thing lead to another and, cooking being the organic experience that it is, my Trini curry turned into an Indian curry – a modification of a recipe from Vij’s Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine (a cookbook of recipes from Vij’s restaurant being an Indian restaurant in Vancouver considered to be one of the world’s 10 best by no less an authority than the New York Times … and me).
I’ve made this recipe before and, if I dare say so, I may have out Vij’d Vij! How? Duh! By adding booze to the recipe of course! Sorry, it’s a long one, but totally worth it.
(B’s) Vij’s Stewed Cinnamon-Scented Lamb Curry (or goat – you can use goat – also delish)
1. B’s Part: Marinate lamb shanks and/or chops overnight in: 1/2 bottle red wine, 1 diced onion, 4 cloves garlic, 6 sprigs fresh tarragon, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, 1 tbsp. cumin seeds, 2 anise stars, 1 tbsp masala curry powder, 2 tbsp. olive oil, s&p.
2. Vij’s Part (with some modifications by B in italics): Heat 4 tbsp ghee or canola oil on medium heat in large, heavy stockpot. Add 1 tbsp cumin seeds, saute until sizzling (45 secs). Add 2 large chopped onions (using the onion from the previous night’s marinade and supplementing with a fresh one), saute until golden brown (8-10 mins). Add 7 chopped cloves garlic, saute until golden brown (2 – 3 mins). Stir in 1-2 tbsp fresh chopped ginger. After 1 minute, add 2 tbsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp turmeric, 10 cloves (or 1 tsp ground cloves), 1 2″ long cinnamon stick (or a couple of anise stars because you don’t have any cinnamon sticks), 1 tsp cayenne and 1-2 tbsp salt (I use just 1). Cook on medium heat, stirring regularly, for 5-10 mins until oil separates from spices. Add another tbsp of oil or ghee if spices sticking.
(Add the liquid from the previous night’s marinade to deglaze the pan and cook down until liquid reduced by half). Add 5 chopped ripe tomatoes, cook 3-4 mins until oil separates again and glistens. Stir in 1 cup plain yogourt, cook 1-2 minutes, then add 1 cup water. Bring to boil and then remove from heat.
In another large frying pan, heat enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pan and sear the lamb shanks, turning constantly until they are browned on all sides and there are small, thin lines of blood on the meat. Remove from the heat and transfer to the stew. Return stew to medium-low heat and cook covered, stirring occasionally until the meat is cooked through and falling from the bone. Vij suggests 2 hours, but this is for cubes of meat. I cooked my curry for about 5-6 hours. Add more water if the curry becomes dry (this has never happened to me with this recipe – I usually have to try to cook off the liquid). This should be a moist, thick curry.
Before serving, remove cinnamon sticks (or anise stars) and cloves. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (or sprinkle on top if you prefer). Serve with rice and/or naan and/or roti.
Also, various Indian condiments such as the mango pickle and chutney, plain yogourt or raita and, for the stout of heart, some Trini pepper sauce.
Vij’s cookbook suggests pairing this dish with a Zinfandel wine. I concur!