Indian Stew with Okra
Mutton meat stew is one of our family's special occasion dishes whenever one of my husband Lulu's relatives come from dinner. I've shared several other versions in the past, but this week, I made the gravy with freshly ground poppy seeds. It gives the dish a pleasant nutty aroma that pairs perfectly with steamed jasmine rice.
The okra vegetables are added at the last minute and provided a nice contrast of color to the meat. Once cooked, they have a slimy quality that blends with the gravy. I've probably mentioned in the past but if you've never tried this unusual vegetable, okra is one of those foods you either love or hate. I personally love them!
Yields: 4 servings1½ pounds mutton, boneless and bone-in meat
2½ tablespoons poppy seeds
¼ cup canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste (see tips)
6 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon red chili powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, freshly ground
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups yellow onions (about 2 onions), chopped and fried
½ teaspoon saffron threads
2 dried red chiles, stemmed
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter; see tips), see tips
1 pound okra (see tips)
½ lemon, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons cilantro (optional), chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
The day before...
Dry toasting the poppy seeds:
In a pan, dry toast the poppy seeds over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool completely.
Making ground poppy seeds:
Grind the poppy seeds in a blender or a grinder (I use a coffee grinder that I keep exclusively for spices). The peanuts should turn into a fine, moist mill, but make sure you stop before it becomes nut butter.
Wash the goat meat thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
Extract the seeds from the cardamom pods. In a mortar and pestle, grind the cardamom seeds. Crush all the nits and gather about ¾ teaspoon cardamom powder.
In a blender or a mini-blender if you have one, turn the fried onions into a smooth purée. Add about 2-3 tablespoons water for a smoother flow. Set aside.
In a large deep pot heat the oil. Fry the cumin seeds. Add the ginger garlic paste, red chili powder, garam masala, cardamom powder, 1 teaspoon of paprika powder and turmeric powder. As soon as it's golden and fragrant, add the meat chunks. Stir over high heat until all the moisture from the meat has evaporated (about 5 to 8 minutes). Add about 1 cup of fried onion paste, the tomato sauce and the yogurt. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add about 2-½ to 3 cups of water. This should cover the goat meat. Bring to a full boil, then lower the heat to medium-low. Cover with a dome-shaped lid to enable the steam to fall back in the saucepan. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
Season with salt. Bring to a full boil one more time, cover with the lid. Turn off the heat and let cool completely. Chill in the refrigerator overnight (if possible).
The next day...
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a mortar and pestle, grind ¾ teaspoon of saffron threads into a fine powder.
Re-heat the goat dish on top of the stove. Add the remaining fried onion paste; it will add natural sweetness to the dish. Add the saffron to the sweetened gravy. Add about ½ cup of water into the mortar and pestle to gather any remaining saffron powder (saffron is quite expensive, so don't waste it!). Pour the saffron liquid into the gravy. Thicken the sauce with ground poppy seeds.
In a small pan, melt the ghee with the dried whole chiles. As soon as the ghee is melted, add the remaining paprika. Transfer the ghee to the goat dish. Leave on low heat for another 2 minutes.
Prepping the okra: Trim the stems of the okra but don't remove them completely; you don't want to pierce the vegetables. Wash them, remove as much water as possible and drizzle with half of the lemon juice. Set aside.
In a separate saucepan, cook the okra in boiling water for about 4 minutes until they change color; drain and pat dry on paper towels. Cut each okra into thirds. Season with salt.
Make sure to cover the handle of the pot with aluminum foil (so it don't melt) or that the pot is oven-proof.
Adjust seasoning of the curry. Add the okra, mint and cilantro to the gravy. Sprinkle with black pepper.
Seal the pot with an aluminum sheet and cover the pot. Place on the stove over high heat for about 2-3 minutes. Steam should escape from the pot. Immediately transfer to the hot oven and bake for about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Allow to set for at least 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid.
Serve warm with some saffron and butter-flavored basmati rice or roti (Indian flat bread).
Indian cuisine always calls for ginger garlic paste. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Just clean the ginger and remove any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife, then finely chop it. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a small jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.
Plain yogurt is a common meat tenderizer in Indian cuisine. You could also use buttermilk.
The key to a flavorful, tender meat is to use fresh (non-frozen) mutton. I do not recommend buying mutton meat at Asian or regular local chain stores; the best place to buy it is from Iranian or Middle-Eastern stores, which always carry fresh mutton since it's popular in those cuisines.
I buy okra at the Indian market. Choose small, bright green okra. For optimum freshness, remove as much moisture as possible by wrapping them in kitchen towels while storing them in the refrigerator. Some people fry okra; for health reasons I prefer boiling the vegetables. You could also roast them to remove the slimy quality I mentioned above. Give all these methods a try, and see which one you like. These vegetables are very inexpensive if you buy them at an Indian store.
You can use the same base for the sauce and make this dish with chicken, lamb, beef or mutton, which is also pretty common in Indian cooking.
Ghee is the Indian version of clarified butter. You can find it in jars at Indian stores. But if you don't have ghee, you can add regular butter to the gravy instead.
Saffron is quite expensive; I usually get it at a more reasonable price at the Indian market because Indian cuisine often calls for it.
Frying onions is easy. Chop the onion. Heat about 1 inch of canola oil in a skillet. Fry the onion in the oil, stirring frequently to prevent it from burning until the color is evenly golden brown. Drain the oil on paper towels. I always make extra so that I can vacuum-seal and store them in the freezer for future use.
In general, traditional Indian cooking calls for a layer of red colored (chile) melted ghee (or oil) on top of the dish. This is considered an attractive decoration; in times past, ghee (clarified butter) was considered a luxury in India.August 30, 2012.