Dinner with friends to celebrate my birthday (though I would prefer to ignore it this year - how depressing to admit to being officially "middle aged"!), and I'm cooking Nick's favourite dish: Indian Leg of Lamb, or Raan Mussallam. As Nick said last week, if anyone asked him what his favourite meal was, he would reply "Fran's Indian Leg of Lamb!". I don't cook it very often, because it takes a bit of preparation and fiddling about a few days beforehand, and maybe this adds to its cachet.
I use Madhur Jaffrey's recipe. For me, she is Mistress of the Masala and all things curried, and I still have her first book, 'An Introduction to Indian Cooking', a Penguin paperback with no illustrations, and turmeric-stained pages. She was in a series of adverts for Indian condiments some years ago - the catchphrase being "She's so bossy!". This has become one of my own kitchen catchphrases (and could equally be applied to me when anyone else is in the kitchen with me, attempting to help me!).
I first made Raan Mussallam, which is a whole leg of lamb marinaded in spiced yoghurt for a couple of days and then cooked slowly, when I was trying to sell my flat in Wimbledon. House-selling 'experts' suggest brewing coffee or baking bread when prospective buyers come to view your property, but I don't think any of them have suggested cooking Indian Leg of Lamb. In any event, my tiny flat was filled with the most delicious, nose-filling fug of warm spices and roasting meat, and it seemed to distract the people who'd come to view the flat that day from the fact that I did not have a fitted kitchen; indeed, they seemed more concerned to steal culinary secrets from me than view the nice parquet floor in the living room.....
The beauty of this dish is that the yoghurt marinade makes the meat wonderfully tender. The marinade makes a sauce all of its own, and this dish requires little more than rice and perhaps a vegetable curry as an accompaniment.
However, because tonight is a celebratory meal, I am going the whole hog and making various additional dishes: an aubergine subji, a classic Punjabi dish, Basmati rice with cinnamon, carrot and saffron, yoghurt raita and green coriander relish. Alongside these delights, will also be the obligatory lime pickle, brinjal (aubergine) pickle, poppadums, and rotis. For a starter, we will have my homemade onion bhajis, to eat with Bellini cocktails. After all that rich and filling food, something fresh and palate-cleansing for afters: my mango sorbet, which tastes so delicious you won't believe it's just mango pulp, egg whites, sugar and lime zest. Oh, and I weakened and made Nigella's Sweet and Salty Crunch Nut Bars, because I thought they might go well with the sorbet.....
Now for the recipes:
The onion/spice base for this can be used with other ingredients: the other day, after making the dish to the recipe as given, I made a variant, and used prawns and tomatoes. The result was very tasty, and a good light supper.
1-2 medium onions, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 green chillis, deseeded and sliced (depending on how hot you'd like it!)
salt & pepper to season
a good swig of olive oil or sunflower oil
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes, or 200g fresh tomatoes, chopped
a good handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped.
2 large aubergines, cut into small cubes
1 large aubergine and 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into cubes (leave skin on)
2 good handfuls of fresh spinach.
Cook's note: I like to fry or roast the aubergine cubes before adding to the base mixture. Otherwise, the aubergine tends to take on the unappetising consistency of an old bathroom sponge! Parboil the sweet potatoes before adding to the dish.
Fry the onions, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds and chillis with a pinch of salt (to stop the mixture catching) in the oil until soft. Stir in the garam masala, turmeric and cardamom, followed by the chopped tomatoes and half of the chopped coriander. Simmer for 5-10 mins, then add the aubergine. Leave to simmer for about 15 mins, then add the sweet potatoes. If it gets too dry, add a little more water. Check to see if the sweet potatoes are cooked, then add the spinach and simmer gently until it wilts. Finally, add the rest of the coriander, and check seasoning. This can be served with a yoghurt raita. It makes a nice vegetarian supper, and needs only basmati rice, toated pitta bread, or Indian bread as an accompaniment. It also works well as a side dish to another curry.
Start to prepare this at least 24 hours in advance as the meat needs to marinade. This is Madhur Jaffrey's recipe and she does not cook the meat as long as I do.....
2.25kg leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and fell (parchment-like white skin).
50g ground almonds
225g onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled
Four 1 inch cubes of ginger, peeled
4 fresh green chillis, chopped
570ml plain yoghurt
2 tbsps ground cumin
4 tbsps ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3.5 tsps salt
1/2 tsp garam masala
6 tbsps vegetable/sunflower oil
1/2 tsp whole cloves
16 cardamom pods
2 inch stick of cinnamon
10 black peppercorns
4 tbsps sultanas
10g split or slivered almonds
Oven 200 C
Make deep slashes in the lamb and spread this mixture over the meat, pushing it into openings. Be sure to turn the leg over so that both sides are covered. Use all the marinade mixture. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.
When you are ready to cook the meat, take it out of the fridge, remove the cling film and allow it to come to room temperature. Heat oil in a frying pan, and when hot, add the cloves, whole cardamom, cinnamon and peppercorns. When the cloves swell - only takes a few moments - pour the hot oil and spices over the leg of lamb.
Cover the baking tray tightly with foil and bake, covered for 1.5 hours. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Baste 3-4 times with the sauce. Scatter, or arrange in a pattern, the sultanas and almonds and bake for another 5-6 mins. Remove from the oven and let the lamb rest for 15 mins. Spoon all the fat off the top of the suace and fish out all the whole spices and discard. Pour the sauce around the leg and carve.