Adventures in Indian cooking: Lamb and spinach stew

A couple of years ago, I bought a cookbook called “India: The Cookbook” by a guy named Pushpesh Pant. It’s a huge collection of loosely organized recipes that he apparently collected from friends and relatives. Getting used to the many spices and cooking techniques has taken me quite a while; the sheer volume of leaves and seeds routinely used in recipes was something new for me.

Now, after a couple of years of practice, I feel as though I’m comfortable enough to cook by eye rather than exact recipes. One of my favorite recipes is lamb cooked in spinach with curry flavors. Usually called saag gosht on Indian menus, it is really like a western lamb stew, but with lots of Indian flavoring agents added. The flour thickened broth that a western stew would probably use is replaced with chopped spinach.

The glossary of ingredients and equipment was initially daunting. But I eventually learned that most of the items listed were only used in a few recipes. The tawa is easily replaced with my wok and the spices that are used routinely are less than a dozen. Corriander, cumin, termeric, kashmiri chili, cardamom pods, garam masala, and fenugreek leaves (or methi) are all basics and readily available at Oxbow market at Whole Spice.

One decision that anyone trying this recipe (and the others to follow) relates to the spices. To grind or not to grind? The frying step with the hard spices produces better results whole than ground. But if you are freaked out at the thought of chomping down on a cardamom pod, go ahead and grind. I do a combination in this recipe.

Saag Gosht – makes dinner for four

2 1/2 lbs lamb stew meat (I use lamb shoulder chops)
1 oz. vegetable oil

Cube the meat, then heat a heavy pot over high heat, add the oil, and brown the lamb. This step is not traditional, but I like the richer flavor the browning adds.

Remove the browned lamb and reserve. To the remaining fat add:

2 dried chilies (I use cayenne)
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods
1 T. corriander seeds
1 T. cumin seeds
3 bay leaves

Stir the spices in the fat until the cumin and corainderstart to pop, then add:

1 lb. yellow onions, medium dice

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown. Then add:

3 T. garlic and ginger puree
1 t. termeric, ground

Cook until the mixture begins to stick, then add:

2 lbs. frozen chopped spinach
and the browned lamb cubes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lamb is tender. If you are using shoulder meat, this will only take about 30 minutes. At this point, you can fish the chilies and connamon out. If you want, the bay leaves and cardamom pods, too. I leave them in and eat around them.

The final ingredients don’t need to be cooked more than ten minutes.

2 t. corriander seeds, ground
1 t. cumin seeds, ground
2 T. methi leaves
1 t. garam masala
1/2 c. cream

It turns out that long cooked whole spices and short cooked ground spices add different elements to the overall flavor. This dish reheats as well as it is freshly made.