Archive for February, 2010

Rick Stein’s Lamb & Spinach Karahi

Indian Spices

This recipe is adapted from Rick Stein’s “Food Heroes” book and was given to him by Mumrez Khan when he visited Bradford’s Karachi Restaurant, when filming his TV series of the same name. I love the way the green chillies are added – they’re blitzed at the end with a little water and added to the curry, giving a delicious, fresh flavour.

Mumrez’s recipe specifies a heart-stopping 250g of ghee (!), which is an Indian clarified butter. I’ve used a more reasonable 150g here, with no resulting loss of flavour. I’ve also modified this recipe to use only 2-3 tbsp oil, which is a lot better for you. Check out my Lamb Saag recipe for details.

Note: You do have the option of skimming off some of the ghee at the end of cooking. The best way to achieve this is to leave the pot to stand at a slight angle for 15 minutes. That way, the ghee will collect at one side of the pot where it will be easy to skim off.


  • 150g ghee
  • 550g onions, chopped (about 3 large onions)
  • 65g garlic, peeled (about 1 bulb/12-15 cloves)
  • 50g root ginger, peeled and chopped roughly (about the size of a golf ball)
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 200ml water
  • 900g boneless lamb (leg or shoulder), cut into large cubes
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp each of the following: turmeric, red chilli powder, sweet paprika, ground coriander, ground cumin
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 200g baby spinach
  • 2-4 medium-sized green chillies, stalks removed
  • 2 handfuls fresh coriander leaves, chopped


  1. Heat the ghee in a large cast-iron casserole. Cook the onions gently for about 20 minutes until soft and light brown in colour. Take the casserole off the heat.
  2. Blitz the garlic, root ginger, tomatoes and water in a blender until smooth. Remove the browned onions using a slotted spoon and add to the blender. Blend again until very smooth.
  3. Return the mixture to the oil in the casserole and add the lamb and salt. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. The sauce will now be well-reduced.
  4. Stir through the ground spices and cook for a further 1½-2 hours. Add a little water every now and then if the sauce starts to stick.
  5. Just before the lamb is finished cooking, make the spinach puree. Put 150g of the spinach leaves in a large saucepan along with a splash of water. Place a lid on the saucepan and cook for about 2 minutes or until the spinach has wilted down. Transfer the spinach to a liquidizer along with another splash of water and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  6. Make the chilli pureé. Blend the green chillies with some water until smooth and add to the curry. Set aside.
  7. Check the lamb is cooked to your satisfaction. At this point, you can spoon off the fat which has risen to the top of the sauce (see below). Stir through the spinach puree and the rest of the spinach leaves. Add the green chilli puree and simmer and heat through for another 10 minutes.
  8. Stir through the garam masala and fresh coriander. Taste for seasoning, adding plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Serve with rice and naan bread with some cooling yoghurt on the side, if you wish.


  • The addition of pureéd spinach may seem bonkers, but it tastes really good and also lightens the dish somewhat. You could add the spinach directly to the curry without pureéing but you lose out on the excellent colour it gives the dish.
  • A note on cooking times: Rick’s recipe specifies 1½ hours total cooking time. I’ve found this does not give enough time to make the meat very tender, which is the way I like it. I cook this gently for 2-2½ hours which gives me the result I want. Next time I make this curry, I’m going to cook it in the oven – 160°C for 2½ hours should do it.
  • Finally, important for all curries (indeed, all stews and braises), this will taste immeasurably better on the second day after being left to stand overnight. This softens the flavour of the garlic, onion and spices and allows the curry to mellow. Do give this a try if you can – leave to stand overnight then prepare the spinach puree when you’re reheating the curry.


  • Add a 400g tin of cooked chickpeas to bulk this recipe out and give it some extra nutrition.
  • Adding a tablespoon of dried fenugreek leaves gives this curry an extra dimension.
  • Omit the spinach leaves and use this as a “base” sauce, adding extra ingredients to make your favourite restaurant-style curry: lemon juice will give you a “Madras”. Adding lots of dried chillies, a little red wine vinegar and some cubes of cooked potato will produce a “Vindaloo”. Add a portion of tarka dal, sugar, lemon juice and some cubed pineapple to give you a “Dhansak”. And so on…

Serves 6.

Tadka Dal

The Big 8 – The only curry recipes you’ll ever need!” – Part 1/8

Tadka Dal

Dal is often consigned to the “side dishes” section on restaurant menus, but this hearty lentil curry deserves to take centre-stage. It makes a fantastic meal accompanied by some bread or rice. I think lemon rice makes a particularly nice accompaniment, though this is not very authentic. Tadka dal is more a north Indian specialty, lemon rice being from the south.


  • 225g toor dal
  • 750ml water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • thumb-sized piece of root ginger
  • 2 green chillis
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced/finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp black mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp onion (nigella) seeds
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • fresh coriander, a handful


  1. Rinse the lentils and check for little stones. Rinse well using a sieve, then place in a large saucepan along with the water, turmeric and salt. Make an incision in the green chillies and add them too. Slice the root ginger into fine matchsticks and add to the lentils also.
  2. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top of the cooking water. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Stir regularly as the lentils will stick to the bottom of the pan as the liquid evaporates.
  3. While the lentils are cooking, make the tadka in a separate pan. Heat the butter and oil, then add the whole spices and curry leaves. Stir-fry until the mustard seeds start to pop. Reduce the heat then add the onion and garlic. Cook gently for about 15 minutes or until the onions are soft and browned. Add the chopped tomatoes and fenugreek then cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. The lentils should now be fully cooked. Squash the lentils using a potato masher (or use a stick blender) to achieve a creamy consistency. You can add a little extra water if you want a thinner consistency.
  5. Add the tadka to the lentils and simmer very gently for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Stir through the fresh coriander and a good squeeze of lemon juice, then serve.

Cheat’s Sambar – This recipe can be easily converted into a cheaty version of sambar, a thin lentil soup commonly eaten in South India. When the dal is cooked, add 750ml – 1 litre of good-quality vegetable stock, 2 tsp of tamarind extract and some chopped vegetables. I use canned chickpeas, frozen peas and frozen broad beans. Simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked. This is also a good way of using leftover dal; just use a smaller amount of stock and vegetables until you achieve the desired consistency.

Benares, London

Passionfruit Cocktail

Benares seems to divide food bloggers. I’ve seen the odd grumble from the blogosphere – people complaining that they can get the same standard of food at their local curry house. Well, if you go to a restaurant like this and order a lamb rogan josh (as one blogger did), you don’t have much grounds for complaint. What were you expecting? Chunks of foie gras in your “ruby”? It’s a strange food blogger who goes to a restaurant and orders the dullest dishes on the menu. Thankfully, dull dishes are few and far between on the menu at Benares. I’m pretty sure that the small section on the menu entitled “Benares Classics” (which include Biryani and Rogan Josh) is there to appease the “vindaloo brigade”. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the “vindaloo brigade” – I am a card-carrying member…)

Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star, serves creative Indian food, presented in a refined European style. The menu includes delicacies such as “Soft-shell crab with apple-crab millefeuille” and “Grilled pigeon with pickled mango and beetroot-vanilla chutney”. Fantastic. What struck me about the dishes I tasted at Benares was the subtlety of the spicing. Every dish was fragrant and subtly spiced, but there was none of the pungency one would normally associate with Indian food. It would be a shame to overwhelm such delicate flavours with too much chilli. I couldn’t help thinking back to BBC’s Great British Menu competition where the chefs heaped praise upon Kochhars mastery of spicing.

I was absolutely intrigued by the vast array of cocktails on offer here. The choices are pretty unique, many of which contain exotic flavourings. I opted to kick things off with a “Silver Spice” – a mix of fresh red chilli, tequila, Vya Sweet, pink grapefruit, fresh lime and agave syrup. The menu describes this cocktail thus: “Eating Indian tonight? Then this is your perfect pre-dinner drink”. It was drinkable, but it seemed off-balance to me. Heavy-handed use of the chilli completely killed every other flavour in the glass. A “Passion fruit Chutney Martini” was much better – a combination of vodka, passion fruit chutney, lime juice, egg white and fresh passion fruit. Superb.

I was pleased to see the customary poppadoms and dips arrive at the table. Some traditions should never be dispensed with! The selection of dips, however, were not your run-of-the-mill curry house selections. They comprised apple, gooseberry and tomato & onion seed. All were excellent, particularly the sharp gooseberry which was the more pungent of the three.

Tandoor Roasted Rabbit in a Spicy Crust, Marinated with Hot Plum Chutney

Tandoor Roasted Rabbit in a Spicy Crust, Marinated with Hot Plum Chutney – the stand out course of the meal for me was this tandoori rabbit. Chunks of bunny, marinated in yoghurt and spices were roasted until charred on the outside, but incredibly moist within. This may have been my first experience of eating food cooked in a proper tandoor. The flock wallpaper restaurants I’m familiar with must use a gas-powered tandoor which does not give you the same smoky flavours that the charcoal version does. But I’m just guessing here…

Potato Cakes with Ginger, Crisp Pastry and Wheat Puff

Potato Cakes with Ginger, Crisp Pastry and Wheat Puff – a simple dish, but served in a “fine-dining” style. A vegetable samosa with tamarind chutney, potato cake with chickpea curry, wheat puff was served with a shot glass of tamarind water. I didn’t get an option to sample much of this (thanks missus!), but what I did taste was excellent.

Grilled Fallow Deer Fillet with Yellow Pumpkin Kedgeree and Pear Chutney

Grilled Fallow Deer Fillet with Yellow Pumpkin Kedgeree and Pear Chutney – cooked perfectly rare, my venison was accompanied by a soft and lightly-spiced kedgeree. Kedgeree is a throwback to the days of the British raj, often served at breakfast. It is traditionally made with rice, lentils and smoked haddock. I was pleased to discover that the gamey flavour of the venison shone through the rich pear chutney. Another triumph.

Tandoor Grilled Monkfish Tail with Sweet & Sour Green Neelgiri Korma Sauce

Tandoor Grilled Monkfish Tail with Sweet & Sour Green Neelgiri Korma Sauce – Like my rabbit starter, The Wife’s monkfish was roasted in the tandoor, taking on that lightly charred crust and complex smoky flavour. The green sauce was tangy and had plenty of heat coming from fresh green chillies. This was outstanding.

Dal Makhani

Purely in the interests of research, we also ordered some sides. Anticipating some delicious sauces and gravies, we ordered a roti, which is a slightly thicker version of chapati bread, also made with wholemeal “atta” flour. The standout dish, indeed the stand out dish of meal, was the not-so-snappily-titled “Black or Yellow Lentil Preparation”. Our waiter recommended the black variety which turned out to be a “dal mahkani” – lentils with butter. The waiter explained the cooking process to us – whole urid lentils are stewed overnight in the tandoor along with garlic, ginger, tomatoes, chilli, cream, butter and some gentle spices. The fragrant dal also took on a faintly smoky flavour from the tandoor oven. The result was earthy, rich and quite easily the most delicious thing on our table. I would have gladly buried my face in it. Atul, you should bottle this stuff. I know I’d buy it. We also sampled an excellent baked pulao rice, but nothing out of the ordinary there. (Expect a recipe for dal makhani on this blog soon!!)

I’ve never understood the tricky task of pairing wine with Indian food. For me, a cold beer is the best match for spicy dishes. However, with such lightness of touch in the kitchen, I discovered that a good sommelier can recommend excellent wines to accompany Indian dishes. An Argentinian Chardonnay “Catena Alte” made a nice sharp accompaniment to my rabbit dish but an Australian Merlot “Craneford” was an even better accompaniment to my venison. A perfect balance of flavours.

Valrhona 56% Le Noir Cardamom Fondant with Guava Granité

Valrhona 56% Le Noir Cardamom Fondant with Guava Granité – Anything that contains Valrhona, I want in. I was expecting the fondant to be very delicately perfumed with the warm cardamom, but the flavour was pleasingly assertive. Unsurprisingly, the fondant was cooked perfectly, with an almost liquid centre. Magic.

Trio of "Kulfis"

Trio of “Kulfis” – The Wife was a little full at this stage and opted for the somewhat lighter option of kulfi – a cardamom-scented ice cream. The varieties on offer here were pistachio, mango and coconut. I tasted all three, surprise surprise – they were all delightful. The Wife, who rightfully declares herself to be something of an expert when it comes to ice-cream, declared the mango to be the best. I can’t argue with that…

Very satisfied at this stage, we noticed that a few tables over, a small party of “suits” were getting increasingly drunk and vocal so we decided to take our masala tea and petit fours in the lounge bar.

To sum up, the food was fantastic, something a little bit different for fans of fine dining. Unfortunately, for a restaurant of this calibre, we felt that the standard of service was just average. It took far too long to place an order for pre-dinner drinks. So much so, that by the time the drinks had arrived we had been sitting in the bar area for nearly twenty minutes. So we asked for the cocktails to be brought directly to the dinner table. The head waiter also made a boo-boo in description of one of our dishes but this was hastily taken care of.

I do have one other criticism of Benares, however.  In this price bracket, I had expected all manner of amuse bouches and pre-desserts, none of which materialised. The procession of small, “show-off” dishes is all part of eating in a “starred” establishment and makes the hefty price tag a little more bearable. A black mark there, in my opinion.

Incidentally, at one point during the meal, after tipping a subtle wink to The Wife, I asked the Maître D’ if “Atul himself was cooking tonight?”. He replied in the negative.

Humph. They never are, are they…? 😉

Verdict: 8/10.

Masala Tea

Benares on Urbanspoon