Friday, January 9, 2015

Five Whistles

I have a new appreciation of the Maine winter: long evenings with bitterly cold nights invite to sit around the fire place with good friends and family, play board games or knit, tell stories and eat good food. No one really has other plans or wants to go anywhere. You start cooking in the sunny afternoon, and by sun down it is almost time for the hungry guests to arrive.




I invited a group of friends for a post-holiday/early January evening to with Indian food, because spicy, aromatic, hot food can only add to the ‘heat from the inside’.


Admittedly, I only know one Indian dish well, and even that dish I cooked twice for this get-together since the first time I used smoked paprika instead of regular paprika, which ruined the dish, and I also realized that tamarind concentrate needs to be significantly reduced when it replaces home-made tamarind juice from a tamarind block. Oh well, we live and learn from our mistakes, right? The second time it came out well just as I remembered it. The authenticity of the dish was assure by Madhur Jaffrey cooking it with Julia Child.

It introduced me to Indian cooking 10 years ago, and I learnt a lot about roasting spices first, and then grinding them, and layering ingredients, which is so central to Indian cooking.


Fortunately, my friend S. shared the cooking for the evening, and we both cooked in parallel for the entire day, ending up with several curries, channa masala, aromatic rice, biryani, spicy runner beans, home-made mint chutney, yogurt, roti,  and 2 desserts. A feast!



Here is the recipe for the second dish, lamb vindaloo, that I more or less improvised. According to S. (the authenticity check) it was really good and there was nothing left of it by the end of the evening.

The original recipe she gave me is here (also with video!), and this one.

Lamb Vindaloo

Special equipment: pressure cooker to cook this dish in 50min, or in the oven for 2h with a dutch oven. If you use an electric pressure cooker, prepare all the steps until closing the lid in a regular pan and then fill the mix into the pressure cooker for cooking.

Prep time: 15 minutes, Cooking time: 60min  Servings: 3-4 main dishes

Note: I used a pressure cooker and therefore, I used ground spices since I did not want to find whole spice pieces in the sauce. Normally, it is made with roasted, whole spices.

  • 1-2 pounds lamb shoulder cut in 1 inch pieces
  • a few tablespoons of peanut or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more if you like it spicy) cayenne pepper (This is very you regulate the heat)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/8th of a teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4th teaspoon ground cardamom
  • a teaspoon of crushed black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk (from a can, light is fine)
  • 3 TB tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar (or sugar)
  • 1-2 Tablespoon Malt vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)


  • 1 Tablespoon crème fraiche
  • 1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch to thicken the sauce

In the pressure cooker, heat the canola or peanut oil to hot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and brown; move the onion to the side of the pan, and start browning the lamb pieces, but avoid crowding the pan. In a crowded pan the lamb pieces release too much liquid and stew instead of saute and they do not brown well. Once a batch of lamb pieces is done, remove them with a slotted spoon to a plate. Saute in batches until all the lamb is browned.

Add all the lamb back to the pressure cooker, and stir with the onions. Make sure to have plenty of oil so it is not too dry. Now, add all the spices, garlic, ginger, and salt. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, then add the water, coconut milk, tomato paste, agave nectar and vinegar. Stir, close the lid, and bring the pressure cooker to pressure.

The original recipe says “cook until 5 whistles”, I did not really know how that translates, but I cooked it under pressure for 45minutes. Once done, turn down the heat, let the pressure slowly go down or release it, and open the pressure cooker. The lamb will be cooked to a soft, tender texture and the sauce will be rich and infused. To bring out the flavor even more, add a tablespoon of crème fraiche (now, that is not Indian…) and a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

Enjoy! (with rice or roti for dipping).


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