Winter Lamb 2 Ways-Not your Average Sunday Roast August 2010

I was not bought up in a Sunday roast sort of a family.
What may have been considered crazy oddities were served to my brothers and me and Sunday dinner was not exception to the rule. While other families were settling down to a nice leg of lamb we may have been relishing the work my mother had put into create many dishes of home-style Chinese food.
I guess because of this I am a little daunted by the roast. That heavy long roasted meat with a selection of roasted vegetables in something that happens maybe once in a blue moon in my house now. I love a good roast chicken but roasted lamb and beef I leave to those who have had years to experiment to make there’s better than the terrifying version that were served to them as children who couldn’t say no.

 So when it comes to lamb I have learnt to cook it other ways and in order to take advantage of a special on beautiful fully NZ raised and processed lamb we had running at work recently I took a leg home for some experimentation.

Still a pretty expensive meat, lamb can be dealt with in many ways that makes it that little more cost effective to feed a family of get more than one meal from a leg joint.

So I worked on two recipes that are following that could feed a good sized group quite easily from just one lamb leg for either one meal or two. You can either use the whole leg diced or half of the meat for each recipe.

Red Dhal Lamb Curry
This takes a classic Thai red curry paste and mixes it with a little Indian influence to create a very rich curry that will be great for a cold winter night. This will sit well for a few days also in the fridge so perfect for a night later in the week when you know you’ll be over cooking and you can just pull this one out. Freezes very well too but just omit the spinach and add that in when you reheat the meat and dhal thoroughly.

Serves either 6 or 3-4

To make the curry paste:
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 mace blade (see notes following)
2 teaspoons ajowain (see notes following)
½ teaspoon fenugreek
3 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 shallots, peeled
3 stalks lemongrass, peeled and hard stalky parts removed and discarded
2 cm piece galangal, grated (see notes following)
2 cm piece turmeric, grated (see notes following)

Toast the fennel, cumin, mace, ajowain and fenugreek in a dry pan till they just begin to colour. Remove immediately and place in a food processor with the remaining dry spices.

Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine to begin with then process till a paste forms.
Add a little water if needed to help create a thick consistency in which the lemongrass is not too chunky.
Heat a fry pan with a little oil and once heated add the spice paste.
Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally for 20minutes.

For the Lamb
1.5kg leg of lamb (or half the lamb if you are making both recipes)
1 cup red dhal or any other dhal that you like, well washed and rinsed in three or four rinses of cold water
2 big handfuls fresh washed spinach

Remove the meat from the bone, removing any excess fat or sinew.
Dice into 2cm pieces and set aside.

Heat another fry pan with a little oil and brown the meat in batches removing it as soon as it has browned so as to not over cook and toughen it.
Set aside.

Once the paste has cooked for 20 minutes tip into a larger heavy based bottom pot or casserole type dish and add the lamb.
Add the dhal and cover all with water and place on a medium heat.
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the spinach and mix through.
Serve with steamed basmati or plain white rice and roti bread

Ajowain is a spice that has a similar appearance to cumin but a smaller grain size. It is used in Indian curries and is available from most good Indian spice merchants. It has a distinct licorice tone that adds a lovely extra element of flavour. If you are not able to find it just omit it.

Mace blades can be hard to find but if you do find them they are worth it. Look at good speciality food stores or try online. They have a fantastically bright floral orange scent when they are fresh and a soft burnt orange colour. Powdered nutmeg can not be used as a replacement here I am sorry but if you do have whole fresh nutmegs then a fresh grating would suffice.

Galangal and Turmeric can be found frozen at a good Asian supermarket. They generally are very cheap (about $2.50 for a large packet) and keep in the freezer well. Just take out a knob and grate as much as you need and return it to the freezer.
Powdered turmeric does not have the same floral tone that you need for this so replace both galangal and turmeric with 2cm piece of fresh ginger instead. Keep an eye out for them both though as they are invaluable for Thai, Vietnamese and even Chinese dishes. 

Greek Slow Cooked Lamb
I love a good casserole slow cooked to bring out the intensely rich flavours.
This can be done ahead of time and the final touches added for an easy dinner party recipe.

1.5kg leg of lamb (or half the lamb if you are making both recipes)
1 red onion, peeled and diced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely crushed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
2 teaspoon Sicilian oregano or wild oregano
1 teaspoon tomato paste
4 anchovies
12 or so cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche 

Dice the lamb meat removing any sinew or excess fat.
Heat a fry pan with a little oil and add the onions and garlic and cook on a low heat till softened for 5 minutes.
Add the spices and herbs, mixing well and cooking for a further 4-5 minutes.
Tip all into a casserole dish and return the fry pan to the heat.
Add the lamb and brown well.
Add the tomato paste and anchovies, mixing well.
Add the halved tomatoes and enough water to just about cover the lamb.
Place a lid on the lamb and cook on a medium heat for 1 hour or until the lamb is soft and yielding.
To serve add the sour cream or crème fraiche and mix well.

I like to serve this just on rice with a few good quality kalamata olives thrown in right at the end but you could try in on pasta also or even mash for a really wintery comfort number.

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