As I've mentioned before in this blog, I am an information addict huge consumer of news. Not only do I read about three Canadian newspapers, I also read a couple British newspapers, the BBC News site and a few Indian newspapers. Indian newspapers are not always my favourite, as I find that they tend to dramatise everything (that may well be an Indian trait, like my own, hehe) but one of my favourite Indian newspapers is The Hindu, which really does approach news in a dispassionate manner and I enjoy reading it and catching up with everything going on back home. It also reminds me of my childhood, when my dad, in the interest of educating us bought this newspaper every day, despite the fact that he enjoyed reading the Times of India better. I appreciate your sacrifice, dad :-)
One of my favourite columns in the Hindu is its Life and Style section. I browse through it fairly often, as I know that there will always be something in it that will catch my fancy. Which is where I came across this intriguing article and recipe for this Taar Korma. I was straightaway fascinated by the history of the dish, and enamoured by the photograph that accompanied it too.
Even though I've lived in India for over twenty years, the depth and breadth of regional Indian cuisine continues to amaze me. Its entirely possible to have lived most of my life there without knowing about, say, Rampuri cuisine, for example. Of course, once I had read the article, all I wanted to do was go out and research everything to do with them. This style of cuisine emerges from the princely state of Rampur in India. Rampuri cuisine owes its distinctive edge to a combination of Muslim and Mughlai traditions, along with spice blends, while traditional, are unique to the region. The Mughlai tradition passes itself on in the liberal use of nut pastes, saffron and the 'dum' style of cooking, while the use of meats like mutton are usually part of the Muslim tradition. As is usual in India, however, recipes have been passed on through the oral tradition, rather than written down. Of course this makes it difficult for the likes of me, sitting here in Canada to try and access them :-)
The more I read about Rampuri cuisine, the more intrigued I was, and I decided that I had to try the taar korma post haste. I did run into a few hurdles though.
First off, mutton is a meat that is not easily available here. After trying in vain to source it for over five months, I gave up and decided to make this dish with goat instead. Goat has a stronger flavour than mutton, but I figured that from what I could guess about the flavours in this dish, they would be strong enough to hold their own with the goat. I found fresh, local goat meat from Spring Harvest Farm. In hindsight I should have chosen a different cut of meat, but I chose the stewing meat, which, while delicious, was a little too fatty for this particular dish. No matter, though, the dish still worked pretty well. As it turned out, I found out that could have sourced mutton from Acme Meat Market. Oh well, next time, because there is certainly going to be a next time with this recipe.
I made quite a few changes to the original recipe that was published by the Hindu. When I read through their recipe, I noticed quite a few inconsistencies, and it did seem like they had just published the recipe without testing it first. But one of the advantages that comes along with being a food blogger, and cook, is that you are able to figure quite instinctively where a recipe might need adjustment. So that's exactly what I did. I cut the recipe in half, plus, I rewrote pretty much the entire recipe in stages as I was cooking it. It broke down the original and also made it easier for me to think about the flavours as I was adding them.
The original recipe asks for the dish to be finished on 'dum'. 'Dum' cooking is a classic Indian technique by which a clay pot is covered sealed with a dough paste after part cooking the food, and placed inside or on low burning coals. The steam produced cooks the food, and the seal keeps all those gorgeous aromas and flavours in. The pot is traditionally broken at the table and the fragrance of the food that wafts out has to be experienced to be believed.
Unfortunately due to the lack of hot coals or a clay pot, I had to resort to that old fashioned Western technique in which I sealed a Le Creuset with foil and placed it in a low oven :-) It worked just as well, and I saved a clay pot somewhere in the world.
The main changes I made to the recipe were to the quantities. For example, the original recipe calls for a cup of ghee. Now I may 'suffer' a bit for my art, but I am not willing to die of a heart attack before I am forty, thank you very much :-) So I reduced it down to 2 tablespoons, and to my mind it worked even better than the original. The goat meat was also quite fatty, and the resulting curry had chunks of moist, succulent meat that wasn't overpoweringly oily.
I was lucky enough to host my friend Connie, she of Mirabelle Macarons fame for lunch, and to try out this dish. As no one, except me, in my house eats meat, its difficult to get feedback for my non-vegetarian dishes. So I was excited to be sharing this dish with Connie. She loved it, by the way, despite not being a huge fan of goat. So I had some positive feedback to this recipe as well. I, personally, LOVED this dish. It had tons of flavour, and the quality of the goat just shone through the layers of spice. The spices were unbelievably fragrant and I loved the creamy, silky and rich flavour of the gravy as well. It came together incredibly well, and I am now a complete convert to another style of Indian cooking.
The recipe for the naans, by the way, is here.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as Connie and I did! Connie, not just content with making absolutely gorgeous macarons, also happens to be a pretty accomplished photographer (woman, you need some faults!!) The pictures in this post, are all courtesy of Connie. Thanks so much, my friend. You are much appreciated :-)
PS - If you live in Edmonton and would like to taste Connie's macarons, she sells at the City Market downtown, one Saturday a month. For her next date check here.
500g mutton or goat, cubed
Fried onion-ginger-garlic paste:
1 tablespoon ghee
1 large onion, roughly cubed
3 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
1 inch piece of ginger, chopped roughly
For the nut paste:
2 tablespoons flaked almonds
1 tablespoon chopped unsalted cashew nuts
1 tablespoon unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup milk
For the rest of the dish:
1 - 2 tablespoons ghee
5 green cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
1 - 2 sticks of cinnamon, about 2 inches worth.
1 - 2 bay leaves
1 star anise
¼ cup tomato puree (around 75 ml, approx)
1½ cup hot stock (I used vegetable, as that's what I had on hand) (375 ml)
¼ cup yoghurt (around 75 ml approx)
½ tsp hot chilli powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 - 2 tsp salt (to taste)
To finish the dish:
½ teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon warm milk
¼ teaspoon crushed cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
An extra 1 cup of hot stock (250 ml), to be used as necessary.
Large handful fresh chopped cilantro, to garnish
To make the fried onion paste, heat 1 tablespoon of ghee in a wide pan. Add the chopped onions. Fry on a medium heat for about 10 - 12 minutes, until the onion is golden and fragrant. Add the chopped ginger and garlic, and fry for another minute. Blend to a fine paste and keep aside.
To make the nut paste, soak the almonds, cashew nuts and sunflower seeds in the milk for about 15 minutes. Grind to a fine paste, adding a little more milk, if neccessary. Keep aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of ghee in a heavy pot. Add the cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves and star anise. Stir together for about 30 - 45 seconds, until the spices are fragrant. Add the goat/ mutton pieces and fry them for about 1 - 2 minutes, until they start to brown.
Add the fried onion-ginger-garlic paste, tomato puree and hot stock to the browned goat/ mutton. Stir together and heat until just beginning to simmer.
Take the yoghurt in a bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of the simmering gravy into it, and whisk well. This will stop the yoghurt from splitting when you add it to the gravy. Gently add the tempered yoghurt into the simmering meat and gravy, and stir until it is all incorporated into the sauce.
Add the ground black pepper and chilli powder to the sauce. Stir well. Then add salt to taste. Stir again.
Bring it to a gentle boil, then turn the heat low, and cover the pot. Let the meat slow cook, until it is fork tender. This could take anywhere between 1 - 2 hours. Test by taking a small piece out and sticking a fork in it. If it falls apart, the meat is cooked.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Very gently, lift the pieces of meat into an oven safe pot or casserole.
Take out the bay leaf and the cinnamon stick(s).
Return the sauce to the heat, and whisk in the nut paste. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, add the additional hot stock, 1/4 cup at a time, until the consistency is to your liking. It should be rich and creamy, but not overly thick.
Whisk in the saffron + the milk it was soaked in, into the sauce. Stir in the crushed cardamom, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and grated nutmeg.
Taste and adjust the salt, if necessary.
Pour this sauce/ gravy over the meat pieces. Cover the casserole or pot tightly with foil and place a lid on top. Place in the oven, and cook for an additional 20 - 25 minutes.
Take out of the oven, and let it rest for a few minutes. Stir, then garnish with fresh coriander, just before serving.
Serve with naan or saffron rice for a truly regal experience.