Visiting Afghanistan... in my mouth!
Another terrible title. I apologise!
This post is a bit of a departure from what I've posted about previously, but I think it is travel related, nonetheless.
I LOVE food. Seeking out local cuisines is one of the highlights of travel, for me. And when I am home, I enjoy cooking so I can experience the flavours of the world, without travelling anywhere. Usually the recipes aren't authentic to a culture but more inspired by it. That said, I don't use pre-packaged sauces, I prefer to use quality fresh herbs and ground spices to cook with.
I participate in a CSA box scheme called Foodconnect, which means I pick up a box of chemical free vegetables and fruit every fortnight (living alone means I don't go through too much food) and my cooking is guided by what I get given. I love contributing to a social enterprise, and not lining the pockets of the shareholders of the 2 big supermarket chains in Australia. The produce is farm fresh, chemical free, high quality and very well priced. It is always a challenge to get through each box and I enjoy being creative. On Sunday evening, I had a few large leaves of spinach (actually silverbeet, but I've always called it spinach for some reason) on the verge of wilting, and a few lamb forequarter chops in the freezer which I feared were about to succumb to freezer burn. Since summer has decided to depart from Sydney about 2 months too early, I wanted to eat something warm and spicy, and googled "lamb spinach curry". I ended up finding this gem, Afghani Lamb and Spinach Curry. I have loved every type of Asian cuisine I have tasted, and some of my favourites would have to be from the subcontinent area from India to Afghanistan (please correct me if I am wrong in putting Afghanistan in the subcontinent area but a brief Google puts it on the border, and and for the purposes of food they seem similar). I think this recipe is definitely closer to "inspired by" than authentic, but I don't think there is anything wrong with that.
This style of food is quite simple to cook, and I am a pretty lazy cook. I enjoy being adventurous with food though, because as I mentioned, it means I get to almost-travel while standing over the stove (and the subsequent shovelling of food into my mouth). I used to look at the ingredients lists of recipes like this and baulk a little, but once you start building up a spice collection and get used to keeping the staples of the kitchen in stock, it doesn't seem that scary at all. These days, I usually change the recipe when I cook, I can't help myself. This time was no different, I adapted the recipe to what I had on hand, so I will rehash the recipe the way that I cooked it. It tasted amazing, by the way. The recipe gives 3 generous serves but you could stretch it to 4 easily with some rice.
Large knob of butter
1 onion, chopped
A few cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 teaspoons of tumeric
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
400g can of crushed tomatoes
500mL chicken stock
400g lamb, diced
500g pumpkin, diced
1 chilli, sliced finely
3-4 big leaves of silverbeet, sliced finely
1 lemon worth of grated rind and juice
store-bought naan bread to serve
plain yoghurt to serve
Heat a large saucepan on the stove on medium heat, add the butter and wait a minute until it melts. Add the onion, garlic and spices to the pan and stir around to coat everything.
When the onion is translucent, add the lamb, stirring around until it is coated in the spices. After a few minutes when it is browned on each side, add the pumpkin, stir around again to coat, and then add the tomatoes and stock. Stir everything around so it is mixed together well and turn the heat down a little.
Leave simmering uncovered, as there is quite a lot of liquid that needs to reduce.
I simmered mine for about an hour, stirring a few times in between.
Turn on the griller for the naan breads.
Once the sauce has thickened, add the spinach and stir through. Taste the sauce and season well, if required. Put the naan breads under the griller. Grate the lemon rind into the curry. Turn over the naan breads if browned on one side.
The curry should be ready now! Turn off the stove and squeeze some lemon juice (I only used 1/4 of a lemon but mine was juicy) into the curry and stir through.
Once the naan is done, slice in half and lay on the plate. Ladle the curry next to it. Serve with a big dollop of yoghurt on the curry. I then added another squeeze of lemon on top.
I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. A moderate level of spice, just enough to make my nose run but not burn out my mouth, and the sauce was very flavourful. There are probably more appropriate cuts of lamb to use than the forequarter chops that I did, but I'm a fan of using what you have on hand or whatever is cheap. As I didn't have much lamb or spinach, I added pumpkin as I thought it would work well with the flavours in the curry, and I love pumpkin in curry. I was right, it was perfect. The yoghurt to serve helped to temper the heat and the fresh squeeze of lemon helped to give it that little extra bit of flavour in your mouth. So while it isn't authentic at all, it was a very yummy curry that felt very inspired by the flavours of the subcontinent/Middle East.
I hope someone else tries this recipe and enjoys it as much as I did!
Afghanistan is somewhere that I would love to visit one day. I don't know whether it is very safe there for a lone female to visit these days, but hopefully one day it is.