Friday, March 1, 2013

Under Pressure--Railway Lamb Curry

It's been a tiring day. The house emerges from its cocoon. I find objects I thought had floated away. I cradle a copper tea kettle. I treasure a pair of brass slippers. My old steel tiffin carrier peeks out from under a crate. A wave of memories cascades over me. I remember carrying that tiffin to school, sitting in the cafeteria eating rice and curry. I remember taking it with me on years of interminable train rides between Bombay and Madras. It always contained snacks, a mid-morning delight, sometimes spicy and other times sweet. In those days the Indian Railways provided tasty repasts over the length of the journey. Breakfast was a spicy masala omelet. And it was with a growling stomach I waited for the train to stop at Guntakal. For that was where the lunch trays arrived. As the train screeched to a stop, rolling carts of lunches were loaded on to the train. Lunch came in a rectangular compartmentalised tray with a enormous mound of fluffy white rice, topped with a fiery red mutton curry, pickle and papads. For want of a better name I dubbed it Railway Mutton curry. The name stuck and so did the memory. Years later much to my delight, I found a recipe by the same name! I discussed the pros and cons of the recipe avidly with my Mum. Needless to say I ventured to recreate the taste I so vividly remembered. You know you cant go back but you have to try. Well it wasn't quite the mutton of the past but with some tinkering, it came close. Mum's advice paid off.

As I go about my day I deliberate silently on my train of thought, no pun intended. I want to be comforted by a childhood choice, but my feet will not venture towards the door. Requests for dinner are met with fatigue. My son volunteers to go food shopping!! Heavens above. I cannot deny him this magnanimous gesture. He returns with lamb chops and ground lamb. He makes it known loud and clear, what he would like for dinner! We are of the same mind. Railway Lamb Curry it is. Shauna and I work side by side. As the lamb sizzles, she turns a bland cauliflower into a spicy side. The pressure cooker whistles. I fluff the rice. Time to eat.

Railway Lamb Curry
Serves 4 people

2lbs Lamb, cut into large pieces
2 tablespoons Coriander seeds
1 teaspoon Cumin seeds
2 tablespoons Garlic paste
5 coins of Ginger
2 tablespoons Chile powder
1 cup grated fresh Coconut
1/2 teaspoon Curry powder
2 Onions
10 Curry leaves
3 tablespoons Canola oil
1 14oz can Coconut milk
1 cup Water
3 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 Lime
1/2 cup Cilantro, finely chopped

Clean and wash the lamb chunks.

Grind coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic paste, ginger, chile powder, grated coconut, and curry powder to a fine paste.

Peel and finely chop the onions.

Place a pressure cooker on a high flame.

Pour in the oil and wait for 30 seconds till the oil is hot.

Drop the curry leaves into the oil. They will splutter so take care.

Add chopped onions and saute well till onions are speckled brown.

Now add the ground masala and stir vigorously, scraping up all brown bits.

Fry masala for 3 to 4 minutes scraping the bottom of the pan as the masala tends to stick.

Add the lamb chunks and salt. Mix well.

Pour in coconut milk and water. Stir well and bring to a boil.

Cover the pressure pan with its lid and place the weight on top.

Let it whistle once, lower the flame to the lowest it can go and cook for 15 minutes. (See Notes below)

Wait for the pressure to drop or if you are in too much of a hurry, run cold water over the pan for 3 to 4 minutes.

Open the lid and stir in the juice of one lime.

Add cilantro and stir well.

Serve with rice or roti.


I use a pressure cooker as it cooks the meat much faster. The above instructions relate to a Prestige pressure pan. There is a world of pressure cookers out there, each one very different. Follow the directions and use the same cooking time as above.

You can also make this curry in a dutch oven or a large saucepan on the stovetop. Lamb takes about an hour. You also have to adjust the amount of liquid accordingly.

I generally use goat meat or "mutton" as we call it. It is less fatty than lamb but has a more pronounced taste.

And the curry always tastes better the day after it is made!

For me this is journey food, a meal that evokes the constant jerky motion of the train, the al- fresco meal on a compartment berth, the blurred countryside and strange sounding villages whizzing past the slatted windows, but most of all it is the gleam of happiness I see in my family's eyes when we sit down to dinner.