Today, forty-two years ago, I asked a girl out on a date. The rest is history. So, we had this small anniversary coming up and I was thinking of something out of the ordinary. Especially in the light of the COVID-19 lockdowns and its side effects.
Now, forty-two years is not as special a date as a twenty-five or fifty, but there you go. It came to me that expressions of love are not limited to physical efforts or presents. It also comes in giving something of yourself in appreciation. And what better way than cooking a special dish for your loved one. Then both of you can share the joy. In the end, the effort is not in the physical work involved, it is more in applying the mind to come up with a proper recipe, something out of the ordinary. Kahneman wrote at length about his.
My choice fell on a korma, with a special rice dish. Lamb korma with a nutty sauce and a flavourful and crusty Persian rice. Tahdeeq. These are dishes that I have not come across often in an eight-year foodie adventure. Time for shaking the tree, I thought.
The korma is made with lamb in this case. Make sure the meat is at room temperature and quite dry before you start. Get meat with some bones in, the bones add extra flavour to the dish. Roast the nuts, it adds a proper flavour to the dish. I used cashews for this dish. Almonds also work. Fry the meat in a dry pan in small batches, else it boils. You need the caramelisation in the pot, this becomes the stock.
Remember some salt while you are frying the meat. You also need to get the sauce up to standard before simmering the meat in the flavoured sauce. Some of the nuts may be held back to use as a garnish, the rest is blended with the onions to make a thick sauce. The garlic/chili/ginger mix needs to be 1 chili, ½ ginger, ¼ garlic by volume. Get a recipe here. I would not venture into the variations of dry masala powder. Just use your favourite. This dish needs to be flavourful, but not strong and spicy. Remember, you are working with very light and subtle spices.
The process for the rice is quite simple, with a cheat to make it easy. The rice needs a crust, which tends to stick to the pan. I get around this little problem by lining the pot with waxed paper. No sticking, and it is easy to lift the rice out of the pot and invert it on a plate. The rice uses coconut powder. You can use coconut milk to boil the rice, but it is lost when the rice is rinsed. The rice is steamed at the end, which calls for a lid that seals properly. Use a wet tea towel if you are uncertain.
These two dishes require the same effort and time as any alike everyday dishes, but some extra care is required in the sequence of the process. The korma is done first, then the rice is started only when the meat part is done. This is done deliberately to allow the korma to rest and develop flavour, so do plan enough time for this sequence of cooking.
The result is absolutely worth the extra bit of effort.
For the korma
750 g lamb shoulder, cubed
1 ½ cup plain yogurt
1 ½ cup cashews, roasted
2 onions, finely chopped
1 ½ tbsp. of your favourite garlic/chili/ginger mix or your own fresh stuff
1 ½ tbsp dry masala, your favourite mix
2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp rose water
¼ cup apple cider or white vinegar
2 black cardamom pods (black elachi)
Seeds from 3 pods green cardamom, shelled and roasted
1 cinnamon stick
A sprig of fresh coriander leaves for garnish
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
For the Persian crusty rice
1 cup basmati rice
2-3 tbsp coconut powder
I cinnamon stick
3-4 pods cardamom (green elachi)
Pinch of saffron, powdered and steeped in ½ cup hot water.
Dollops of butter
Some fine salt to taste
Waxed paper to line the pot. Proper waxed paper.
Here is what you do
Roast/fry the cashews in a dry pan until they start to show dark brown stains, then set aside to cool. Ensure the meat is quite dry, then fry the cubes in a dry pan. They will start to caramelise and leave some caramelisation in the pan. You need to do this in batches, else there will be too much fluid in the pan and the meat will go grey. Set the meat aside while preparing the sauce.
The sauce, in this case, is onions, fresh garlic, ginger, and chili, along with the cardamom (elachi) and cinnamon. Add some oil to the caramelised pot, add the dry whole spices and fry for 20-30 seconds until the flavours come out, then add the onions. Fry until translucent. Add the fresh spices or spice paste and fry for another minute or two. Add the vinegar to deglaze the pot. You want the caramelisation in the sauce as stock. Now add your favourite dry masala, the yogurt and the roasted cashews. The cashews may be substituted with roasted almonds. Keep a few nuts for the garnish in the presentation. Mix thoroughly, then blitz this lot with a blender. Check for sufficient salt. If you don’t have a blender you need to chop the onions quite fine or grate them before frying. The cashews may be crushed in a coffee mug with the back end of a spatula or your chef’s knife. Or use your favourite mortar and pestle. The coffee mug idea works a treat and you get a crunchy texture in the sauce.
To this lot add the meat, turn the heat down and simmer the meat until quite soft. Dilute the sauce with water if required and make sure it doesn’t catch. If it does everything goes bitter and you will have to start over. When the meat is done to your satisfaction, add the garam masala and rose water, douse the gas hob, and allow the dish to rest.
Now you start with the rice part. Add water, rice, and some salt and the cinnamon and cardamom. Boil this until the rice is partly done. Now rinse the rice. It will stop cooking. This is where the cheating part of the process comes in. Clean the rice pot, then line it with waxed paper. Use proper waxed paper, else the paper will wilt into the rice. Into this goes a dollop of cooking oil or ghee and about a dessertspoon of coarse salt, sprinkled around. Do not use olive oil, the flavours clash with the rest of the dish. Some dollops of real butter are then added before the rice is sprinkled on top. Check and adjust for saltiness. Steep the saffron in ¼ cup of boiling water. Add the coconut powder to this, then sprinkle this over the rice in the pot. Set a tight-fitting lid and cook at medium heat for another 15-20 minutes. Don’t lift the lid, you want to steam the rice in pilau-style. When the rice is done, lift the whole lot out of the pot by the wax paper and invert the rice between two plates. The waxed paper will come away freely and you will have a wonderful crusty rice dish with an intact Tahdeeq.
For dishing up you put the korma in a dish for the table and garnish with coriander leaves and the rest of the nuts. Serve the rice next to this. After all, this is for a special occasion and the presentation of the food is as much part of the experience as the aromas and flavours.
I hope that you will enjoy this as much as we did.
Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2020-10-25