One of my maa’s recipes has been the inspiration for this recipe today. I have a distinct memory of this afternoon when I see my maa emerging out of the kitchen holding a stainless steel container and setting it on the table. It was a mutton curry she had tried out for the very first time. It was pale with fresh green curry leaves in it: quite different from our usual bright looking Bengali mutton curries. Those few moments are so lucid that it feels I can stretch out and trace her face with my fingertips.
Yet I do not think that I was paying attention then as I sat down to eat. I never thought that one afternoon would haunt me more than twenty years later. That it would make me want to recreate the scene, the smell and the flavors awakening my senses. That I would want to go hug my maa, only if I could. I never imagined I would recall it with every details. Why only these few minutes, and not the rest of that day? It is as if time stopped, and she is still standing there.
Indian cuisine is a funny thing. Don’t you think so? Some have names that have made international debut. Others like this suffers from having no name. It has a personality as good as those famous ones or even better. Unique flavors, more strength and less common. Yet I had to name it by the ingredients. But this is what makes Indian cuisine so beautiful! I would not mind repeating again that “Curry” is not one dish. Neither is Curry an exotic spice mix from the eastern world. Curry is only a kind of dish which has a lot of sauce or gravy in it, (and not the only dish that Indians eat); some have names, some do not. Some names are more than a century old, the recipe being handed down from one generation to the other. Others are sewn in together in a few minutes, instinctively, with ingredients that are available at that time, maybe never to be repeated again.
I do not have memories of this recipe she had tried out being cooked often. In fact I do not have any recollections of it ever being repeated. It must have been if it made such a lasting impression in my mind. I just do not remember it.
It must have been a long long time back. I had stopped eating goat meat or mutton as it is usually called in India, sometimes during my middle school years. I am talking about the time when I was ten or eleven years old. The mutton curry that had nestled by my plate in a bowl was unusually fragrant. Yet, it did not have any of the familiar flavors. It was not rich. It was more like a light stew. It was not red like it looks today. Maa did not use Kashmiri red chilli powder like I did. She must have made a paste in the shil nora with one or two dry red chilli peppers after soaking them in water. I remember that she had made it with coconut and plenty of fresh curry leaves and mustard seeds. The rest have been erased from my memory. I had unconsciously held it for so many years to the image of my maa holding the pot of steaming mutton curry and bringing it to the table. What remains of the taste and flavors in my memory could be the real thing or it could be just a figment of my imagination as I strive to remember. I cannot tell. But I do clearly recollect the way it looked and how the meal that day had a different excitement that it was not the usual Mangshor Jhol.
My maa’s recipe definitely was influenced by the cuisine of Kerala. We had friends from Kerala and the flavors and ingredients reflected the goat curries from that state. However I am not sure if it was something she had cooked from a specific recipe or it was a dish that she had put together on her own.It was probably the later, for I had never known her to follow a recipe by the words.
I have been planning on making this for the longest time. But I had to first find that combination of that particular flavor that has clasped so tightly on to my memory. I knew there was something more than the coconut, mustard and curry leaves. Then the other day as I was grinding roasted mustard and fenugreek seeds for a pulao, the undertone of the spice mix rustled through me in a soft familiar swirl of aroma. I knew that it was the fenugreek seeds. That had to be right. Everything seemed to fit in place. There had been no clove, cardamom or cinnamon. None of that usual spices that were used in our home to make a mutton curry.
I do not think I was able to recreate the recipe. But I have at least tried and got as close as I could. Something different, something new and something to connect to my childhood.
Mutton Curry with Fenugreek, Coconut and Curry Leaves
Ingredients: (serves 2-3)
- Goat meat/Mutton – approx. 10 -12 pieces, 2.5 – 3 inches in dimension (approx. 1/2 – 3/4 lbs)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder/cayenne/paprika (use what you want depending on how spicy you want it to be)
- 6 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt (if you are not using Greek yogurt, strain out the liquid of the plain yogurt you are using)
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- meat tenderizer (I use one which has the natural papaya extract in it) – optional (good to use if you are not using a pressure cooker. It will reduce the cooking time)
For the sauce:
- 3 – 4 tablespoon oil
- 1/2 teaspoon + 4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon + 3 teaspoon methi/fenugreek seeds
- 1-3 green chilli pepper
- a large pinch of good quality hing/asafoetida
- 1.5 cup (8 oz cup by volume) onion sliced in thin half moons
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste
- 2 teaspoon Kashmiri red chilli powder (or any other kind of chilli powder you want to use. adjust amount to taste)
- 1/4 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
- 1/4 cup packed curry leaves (fresh is best: however I used the ones that I had dried and stored in refrigerator)
- 4 – 5 cups of warm water (adjust amount to how much gravy/sauce you would want)
- salt to taste
- fresh lemon juice to finish off if you want
Wash the meat and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub the meat with salt, chilli powder and turmeric. Allow it to sit for about 15-20 minutes. Now add the meat tenderizer if you are using, ginger paste and the yogurt, rub them into the pieces and allow them to sit for about for about 4-6 hours at least. Overnight works best.
Toast/dry roast 4 teaspoons mustard seeds and 3 teaspoons methi/fenugreek seeds. When fragrant remove from heat. They will turn bitter if they burn and they will burn quickly. So watch carefully. When cooled, grind into a powder and set aside. You will use about 3-4 teaspoon of the powder for this recipe. You can store the extra for later use.
Heat oil in a pan or pressure cooker. Add the rest of the mustard and methi seeds. When the seeds start to sizzle and pop, add the hing/asafoetida and the slit green chilli pepper. When the skin of the pepper browns and blisters, add the onions and salt.
Cook the onions in medium heat until they soften start to brown on the edges. Now remove the meat from the marinade and lay them in a single layer (if possible) in the pan. Being in contact with the pan as it cooks will seal the marinade and add flavor. Cook at medium to high heat for a few minutes until they start to brown. Flip them over and cook the other side. Add the garlic paste, chilli powder, about two to three teaspoons of the mustard, fenugreek powder you set aside earlier along with the rest of the marinade to the pan. Lower heat and cook slowly for about 15 minutes. Toss and stir often. The meat will cook with the onions and the spice mix.
Now add the coconut and the curry leaves. Cook for ten more minutes in low heat, stirring often. Add the water and cover with a tight fitting lid and cook until done. I have used a pressure cooker and it cooked it for fifteen more minutes under pressure. Without pressure cooker the meat will take about an hour to cook. Once done there should be good amount of soupy sauce in this dish. Adjust salt. Finish off with a drizzle of lemon juice.
Serve with rice or bread.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: more than an hour if not using pressure cooker. 45 minutes is using pressure cooker
Difficulty Level: Easy
Serves: 2-4 as side