27 August 2009

(Mostly) Balti Night, Take One

The "Brit-Indi" food you get at Haggerty's is only one side of the coin. At the same time as Indian curry houses in England first began proliferating in a big way, a Pakistani population that had begun settling in Birmingham (England, that is) after the partition of India started what have come to be known as Balti houses. Baltis and Indian curries seem very similar in spirit, but a number of things set them apart. Unlike Indian curries, a balti is prepared in a wok. In fact, "balti" is said to derive from a word meaning "bucket" or, perhaps said semi-facetiously, "hubcap." Another difference between the two is that your average balti is not about tongue blistering heat. You also see ingredients going into a balti that would not ordinarily find their way into a "Brit-Indian" curry, such as lemon juice and star anise.

Balti is a one pot event, served in a large steel serving dish—a karahi—that is hot enough to sizzle butter when it comes to the table. It's not served with rice, but is instead accompanied by an extra large naan or chapati.

There are a lot of great vegetarian routes to take in this style of cooking, but we happened to use lamb on this evening.

A Lamb Balti

Step One: Making the Spice Mix

  • 4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
For the cumin and coriander, it's best to start with whole seeds, toast them in a skillet until fragrant and then grind them yourself in a mortar or spice grinder.

Step Two: Making the Garam Masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 3/4 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp. whole cloves
  • 5 cardamon pods
  • about 1 1/2" to 2" of cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 of a whole nutmeg
  • 1 -2 star anise, which is supposed to be a balti specific addition to garam masala.
Garam masala is one of those spices that is better when made fresh. Just toast all of the above until it is fragrant and then and grind it into a fine powder.

Step Three: Pre-Cooking the Lamb and Making The Sauce
  • 2 lbs. lamb cut into 1" cubes (should be a lean cut, like meat from the leg, which is what we used here)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • half of the spice mix above
  • 2 tsp. tumeric
  • 1/2 a green pepper, diced
  • a thumb sized bit of ginger, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. dried methi (fenugreek)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
Saute the onions in a sauce pan, then add 1/2 pint of water and everything else but the lamb. Bring that to a boil, add the meat, and then simmer, slowly braising the meat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is tender. Remove the lamb and puree the sauce.

Step One Hundred and Thirty Seven: Make Balti Happen Now
  • the par-cooked lamb from step three above
  • olive oil
  • a thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
  • 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, finely diced
  • 1 to 2 cu. frozen peas (we had fresh peas, but their season has already passed)
  • some potatoes, par-boiled and cut into chunks such as for a stew
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • the other half of the spice mix from step one above
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • some, but necessarily all of the sauce from cooking the lamb in step three above
  • salt, if it needs it
Heat 5 or 6 tbsp. of olive oil in a wok. Stir fry the ginger and garlic for a bit before adding the onions. Stir fry the onions until softened, then add the chilis and green pepper, tomatoes and tomato paste. Let the heat come back up and then add the spice mix, lemon juice, sugar and most or all of the balti sauce you want a curry like consistency, not soup, so you have to gauge how much to add by looking at the remaining ingredients). Bring all that up to a simmer, then add the lamb and potatoes and some salt. Simmer for minutes, adding more balti sauce if you need it. Add the peas and bring it back to a simmer. Done!

All of the above is based on stuff I read in three books: Lowe & Davidson, 100 Best Balti Curries (1994), Pat Chapman, Curry Club Balti Curry Cookbook (1994) and one other book I can't find right now.

To make it a real balti night, we should have made our own naan or chapati; but we made a paratha instead, stuffed with onion and cauliflower.

We made a tomato relish to put on the paratha and it was just about the best damn thing I've ever put on bread

Hot Tomato Relish!
Adapted from Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Cooking (1980)
  • 4 tomatoes, cut into chunks or a large dice
  • 1/2 cup of a light vegetable oil
  • 1/3 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 – 2 tsp. red pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
Toast the cumin seeds in the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat until the cumin darkens. Add the garlic and jalapenos and cook for one minute further. Add everything else and let it all cook over medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes before turning it down to low and simmering for one hour. Stir occasionally and gently. Puree most of the sauce, reserving some chunky bits of tomato and jalapeno to mix back in. The end product should look like the bright red relish in the picture below.

In the bottom left corner of the picture is a green mango pickle we made a long time ago. It's also pretty amazing stuff.


Kate. said...

Wow, what a feast! I am not familiar with that style of cooking, so thanks for the eye opener. I love that it comes with so many chutney, sauces, pickles, etc.

Mary said...

Wowza. That's a long day of cooking, but I'll bet it was worth it. Looks delicious!

Brad said...

It was. The paratha took a long time. Vegan balti is up next!