January 29, 2011

Lamb Vindaloo

Vindaloo is among the more popular Indian curries, both within India and in other nations where Indian cuisine is popular.   Interestingly, its origins aren't originally Indian.  The Indian coastal region of Goa was strongly influenced by Portuguese traders, and the early versions of vindaloo developed by Goan cooks were closely based on traditional Portuguese dishes.  Over time, an ingredient common to the Portuguese dishes - red wine - was replaced by vinegar, which became one of the defining traits of vindaloo. 

In the west, vindaloo has a reputation for being quite spicy.   That isn't universal - some traditional Indian versions of vindaloo are quite mild - but it is pretty common, as most vindaloos incorporate Indian hot red chili peppers.  Interestingly, western versions of vindaloo usually include potatoes, but even though "aloo" is the Hindi word for "potato," traditional Goan vindaloo do not include potatoes.  The word vindaloo is derived from Portuguese, not Hindi.  That said, potatoes are commonly included in similar dishes from other areas of India.

I recently put together an original Lamb Vindaloo recipe.   It incorporates elements from a variety of traditional and modern vindaloo recipes, mostly ones with a strong Goan influence.  I tried out the recipe last weekend and was pleased with the results.  After a lengthy marinade, then frying before finally simmering in spices and broth for a time, the lamb is fall-apart tender and the gravy thick and flavorful.  The dish has a bit of bite to it, but is less spicy than a lot of Western vindaloos, such that the flavor of the lamb doesn't get buried beneath heat and spices. 

I'm pretty happy with how this recipe turned out, and Juli liked it, too.  I may experiment with it further - I might even play around with a more western version and include potatoes next time - but I think it's pretty good as is.   Hopefully some of our readers will give it a try and let us know what they think.

Lamb Vindaloo

yield = 6 servings

2              pounds lamb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2           cup rice vinegar
1              tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1              tablespoon minced garlic
2              serrano chilis, seeded and minced
2              teaspoons chili powder
1              teaspoon black pepper
1/2           teaspoon powdered turmeric
2              tablespoons vegetable oil
1              large yellow onion, chopped fine
2              tablespoons tomato paste
1              tablespoon sweet paprika
1              teaspoon mustard seed
1              teaspoon ground cumin
1/2           teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2           teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2           teaspoon table salt
1/4           teaspoon cayenne pepper
2              bay leaves
1 1/2        cups chicken broth
1/4           cup water

In a zipper-lock bag, mix the lamb, vinegar, ginger, garlic, chilis, chili powder, black pepper and turmeric.  Shake to thoroughly mix, then refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add half of the lamb mixture to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is browned.  Transfer the browned lamb to a bowl and repeat with the remainder of the lamb mixture.  

After all the lamb is browned and removed from the Dutch oven, add a bit more oil if needed, then add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes or until they just start to brown.  Add the tomato paste, paprika, mustard seed, ground cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, salt and cayenne.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, then add the lamb back to the Dutch oven.  Stir to mix, then stir in the bay leaves, chicken broth and water.   Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover partway.  Simmer for 1 hour, then serve. 

If you'd like a spicier version of the dish, omit the serrano chilis, chili powder and cayenne and instead grind up 10 dried hot red peppers using a spice grinder or mortal and pestle.  Add the ground chilis after frying the onions, then roughly chop a couple more dried chilis and add them to the mix along with the bay leaves.  Kashmir chilis would be ideal if you can find some, but if not, any sort of hot dried Asian red pepper will do the trick.  You'll want to use Asian peppers, though.   Use of Mexican peppers, such as chipotle or ancho, will leave the dish tasting like a Mexican or southwestern stew, not a curry (not a bad thing, mind you, but not what I'm going for here).
     If you want something more closely approximating the versions of Vindaloo typically served in Indian restaurants in the US, peel and dice some potatoes, pat them dry, add another tablespoon of oil to the pot after removing the lamb from the Dutch oven and fry the potatoes along with the onions.  This may cause the onions to take a little more time to brown, but be caerful they do not burn.

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