This is one of those curries where if you throw it a hard stare, the lamb just kind of sighs and falls to pieces. There’s nothing tender about about the taste however, a meaty, earthy spicy hit that floods your mouth when you take a bite.
It’s this melting but flavourful effect that makes lamb shoulder my favourite meat to slowly cook in a curry. The lacing of fat and connective tissues that run through the meat give it a glorious texture, and hold a decently strong flavour that stands up well to spicing.
Warming aromatics and chilli heat go particularly well which is why there are lashings of ground coriander, garlic, ginger and a hot green chilli. They lift the lamb and the smooth earthy spinach and prevent it form becoming too cloyingly smooth. While the tumeric adds a certain earthy astringency. An almost undetectable foundation that’s essential to the curry taste.
As I understand it, and I am more than happy to be corrected here, this is a typically North Indian dish, with the use of yoghurt, lamb and the spicing coming in with the Mughals from Central Asia. And it does have some similarities with what little Persian food I’ve eaten.
Whatever its origins, this is one of the best ways to cook lamb. The main thing is to balance all the spices out with the aromatics and the lamb. You need enough to lift the flavour of the finished dish, particularly as the combination of spinach and lamb can be quite earthy, but not to overwhelm relegate the meat and vegetable to mere texture.
If I were cooking it again I would add another green chilli and maybe some fresh coriander just to add a little freshness and zing to the finished dish. But that’s because it’s summery outside. If it were the depths of winter this would be perfect – soothing, warming and filling.
Lamb and spinach curry
Serves four with rice, a vegetable side of some sort, poppadoms and raita
The main thing here is not to stint on the cooking time. You must give the lamb time to relax and absorb the yogurt and spices. It’ll, as ever, be even better if you make it the day before and leave to soak everything up overnight before reheating the next day.
I got this recipe by reading and combining elements of similar curries from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Bible and 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi, and then adding the odd touch of my own. Both are excellent books and come highly recommended.
Half shoulder of lamb cut into one inch (2cm) pieces
4 cloves of garlic
1 thumb of ginger peeled and grated
1 small very hot green chilli deseeded and finely sliced
2 tablespoons of ground coriander
2 medium onions cut into fine half rounds
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
Half tsp of turmeric
Large pinch of salt
4 tblsp full fat Greek yoghurt
400 g of baby spinach sliced into rough ribbons
Mash the garlic, ginger, green chilli and ground coriander into a paste using a pestle and mortar and slather all over the lamb. Set aside for about 30 minutes to marinade. An hour would be better.
Put 5 tablespoons or so of oil into a pan over a high heat. When it’s starting to shimmer add the onions and, stirring occaisionally, cook until they are golden and crispy. Don;t worry if some go a dark brown. Spoon out onto paper towels to drain, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
Add the lamb to the oil, turn the heat down to medium and stir in the Cayenne, turmeric and salt. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. The lamb should shed some water.
Plop in the yoghurt one tablespoon at a time, stirring each one in before you add the next. Add the spinach and stir until it wilts. Make sure everything is well combined, cover and turn the heat down as low as possible. Leave to cook for 50 minutes, stirring occaisionally.
Make sure the lamb is super tender (I leave it to rest for another 15 minutes or so) and serve over rice. Sit back and enjoy.