Amidst the hustle, bustle and clinking I sit and stare, and stare some more. It pulls me closer and closer but yet I get no nearer; one day I will, I swear. It is just an image now; an image that hypnotises me every time I visit. But soon it will be real.
Where I am is in a Nepalese restaurant in the Royal borough of Kingston-upon-Thames; where I want to be…Sagarmatha, or Everest.
From the first time I entered that restaurant as a poor student I vowed that one day I would take my own photograph of what welcomed me each time I passed the threshold into that hotbed of stinging and soothing curries. Looking at the landscape photograph of this Himalayan wonder nestled amongst other mountainous peaks used to instil in me a sense of freedom and a respect for what the earth was capable of. Of course, this worked in synergy with the consumption of wonderfully spiced curries.
Monty’s was a curry institution in this part of the world, and one that was frequented by me and my university mates, during our studies and long after graduation. It was a Nepalese restaurant but its fare was not limited to the Nepalese region; it catered for everyone. On one hand they produced a phall (incredibly hot British-Indian curry) for the lager induced daredevils; I tried it once and feel myself still fortunate to have an intact palate. At the opposite end of the scale was the diminutive but nonetheless tasty mild chicken korma; an immaculate and delicate blend of spices with juicy and tender chicken breast, finished with delicious almondy creaminess. One of my go-to curries, however, was the lamb rogan josh. There was just something about tender lamb in a curry that took me to another plane. I think it’s the strength of flavour of lamb which competes with, but with parity, the spices. I also loved the acidity and tartness of the yoghurt that was used in this particular rogan josh, and as such this dish has remained a favourite of mine ever since.
Rogan josh is believed to have originated with the Persians. The history can be traced back to the 14th/15th century when India was invaded by Timur Lang, the great conqueror, and as a result Mughals of varying skills, including cooks, began to influence this South Asian land. The Mughals would often retreat to the cooler climate of mountainous Kashmir, and it is here that the dish rogan josh was perfected.
Its name? Well there is no definitive answer. For example, there is the theory that the name of the dish came from the Persian for clarified butter (rogan) and hot (josh), implied by the popular meat stew dish that came from there. Another idea is that the name rogan was a derivative of words such as rouge (red in French) or even the Kashmiri word for red, which is, I am led to believe, rogan.
The dish itself has many variations, a lot of which are family secrets; similar to spice blends. As the Kashmiri Brahmans didn’t eat onion or garlic, their rogan josh was often flavoured with fennel seeds and the lamb seasoned with asafoetida. The Muslim version, however, uses lots of onion and garlic. The redness of the dish can be attributed to Kashmiri chillies; a deep red-coloured chilli with a milder spice to the usual Indian red chillies. The colour is also attributed to the addition of the indigenous Kashmiri plant, mawal (cockscomb flower).
So, now I present you with another version of this classic. The lamb is marinated in yoghurt and asafoetida. The yoghurt helps tenderise the meat whist the asafoetida adds flavour. Harold McGee refers to asafoetida as:
one of the strangest and strongest of all spices
of which I wholly agree. We also have garlic and onions, and bags of wonderful Indian spice, including Kashmiri chilli.
Everest Inspired Lamb Rogan JoshPrint
- ■ 150g plain yoghurt |
- ■ ½ tsp. asafoetida | Dissolved in 2 tbsp. of water.
- ■ 700g boned leg of lamb | Trimmed of fat and diced into 2cm cubes.
- ■ 2 large ripe tomatoes | Roughly chopped - note: I used a few ripe organic miniature cherry tomatoes which worked really well.
- ■ 2 brown onions | Roughly chopped.
- ■ 2 hot green chillies | With seeds if you’re game enough. Roughly chopped.
- ■ 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil e.g. groundnut.
- ■ 3 tbsp. grapeseed oil | For frying.
- ■ 2 fresh bay leaves |
- ■ 1 cinnamon quill |
- ■ 1 tsp. fennel seeds |
- ■ 6 cloves |
- ■ 2 brown cardamom | Gently crushed to split them.
- ■ 3 green cardamom | Gently crushed to split them.
- ■ ½ tbsp. garlic paste |
- ■ ½ tbsp. ginger paste |
- ■ 1 tbsp. ground coriander seed | Toast in a hot frying pan for 30-40 seconds and then grind to a powder.
- ■ ½ tsp. ground turmeric |
- ■ 1 tsp. Kashmiri red chilli powder |
- ■ 1 tbsp. tomato puree |
Put the diced lamb, yoghurt and dissolved asafoetida in a non-reactive bowl (important because of the acidity of the yoghurt) and mix well. Cover the bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour. Meanwhile add the tomatoes, onion, green chillies and 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil to a food processor and blend to a paste-like consistency.
Heat the 3 tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large heavy based pan until hot. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon quill, fennel seeds, cloves, and brown and green cardamom to the pan. The brown cardamom is particularly fun as it doesn’t half spit and crackle – I recommend covering the pan momentarily so you don’t lose any of the spices. Once fragrant, add the garlic and ginger pastes and stir for 20 seconds. Now add the blended tomato/ onion/ chilli paste and a dash of salt, and stir. Cook this on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onion should soften without browning too much.
Now add the ground coriander seed, turmeric and Kashmiri chilli powder, and stir (maybe adding a little water if too dry). Stir in the tomato puree and another dash of salt. Turn the heat to high and carefully place the lamb in the pan, retaining any residual yoghurt in the bowl. Sear the lamb so that it browns nicely on all sides. Add the residual yoghurt marinade and stir, then turn the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 40 minutes.
Taste, and then season if required; the rogan gosh is now ready to wow you. Serve with fresh yoghurt, and coriander if your taste buds desire.
Goes great with hot basmati rice and/ or roti bread.