Indian Spring Heats Up a Meal


Traditional Indian meat meals don't work for kosher cooks, but here's a lamb recipe that tastes great without dairy, plus enough sides to make a full meal. 

I love Indian food, as does my family. I've been tempted to showcase it in Philacatessen, but many Indian main dishes start with meat marinating in a yogurt mixture, which is, of course, a no-no for those who keep kosher. Recently, however, my dear friend Farah Kapoor, Singaporan by birth and of Indian descent, made a lamb dish sans dairy for a book group dinner, which inspired me to reconsider the topic. 

Farah was kind enough to share her original recipe, and I added a few of my own to round out the menu. Aside from the lamb, these are all pareve, so they could be served with dairy dishes as well. The side dish recipes are also quite simple, which is a boon, especially if you are a novice at Indian cooking.  

Yes, I know there are a lot of ingredients and some of them seem a bit obscure to the Western pantry. But more and more markets are carrying these items, and there are several good Asian markets listed below if your local grocer doesn't have them. I grant you that initial forays into Indian cooking can seem intimidating; the spice mixtures do have a lot of components. But once you get the hang of it and have your pantry stocked with the necessary ingredients, you'll be glad you did.

Lamb Rendang

Recipe courtesy Farah Kapoor

1 1/2 lbs boneless shoulder of lamb cut into cubes
salt to sprinkle on lamb
7 Tbsps. oil
10 kaffir lime leaves (if unavailable, you can substitute lemon basil leaves, lemon verbena leaves or basil leaves)
1 3/4 cups coconut milk
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized piecees

For the Spice Paste:

3 Tbsps. oil
10 dried red chilis, soaked in warm water and seeds removed
5 fresh red chilis, seeds removed
2 stalks lemongrass (white part only), lightly smashed
7 shallots or 1 small red onion
1 clove garlic
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 tsp. coriander seeds
4 cashew nuts, lightly smashed
1 tsp. tamarind paste
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar

1.  Blend all Spice Paste ingredients in a food processor until pureed. Season lamb cubes with salt and put aside.

2. In a large dutch oven, heat oil and stir-fry kaffir lime leaves until fragrant.

3. Turn heat to medium-high, add blended Spice Paste and stir-fry until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

4. Add lamb cubes and stir well, coating with spice paste. Continue cooking for 5 minutes.

5. Pour in coconut milk and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a bare simmer, cover and braise for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. 

6. Add potatoes and cook an additional hour at a low simmer until potatoes are cooked through and lamb is very tender. During cooking, if the dish becomes too dry, you can add some water or more coconut milk.

Allow the dish to sit for 30 minutes to an hour before eating. Flavor improves on the second day; if possible make ahead and refrigerate overnight. Serve with basmati rice. 

Serves 6.

Basmati Rice, The Indian Way

Another Indian friend taught me this fail-safe method for cooking rice to the perfect level of doneness.


2 cups white Basmati rice, rinsed in colander until water runs clear
2 tsp. salt
8 cups water

1. Place rice, water and salt in a large heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then turn heat low, cover and simmer.

2. When rice becomes fragrant, approximately 12 minutes, check a grain by squishing it between your finger and thumb. If it breaks into four pieces, it is done. Any fewer, it needs more time in the pot. The other test is to bite it: There should be the teeniest little al dente crunch, barely detectable. If it crunches more than that, cook it longer.

3. When you've determined that the rice is done, pour it through a colander until all water drips out. Then return it to the cooking pot, turn off the heat, cover and let stand 10 minutes. 

Serves 6.

Dal (Stewed Lentils)

This is a wonderful option for vegans, but carnivores like it, too. Traditionally it is served as a side dish over basmati rice, but it's great eaten alone out of a bowl.

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1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground chipotle powder
1/4 tsp. crushed chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb. lentils, rinsed
7 cups water

1. In a large stock pot, heat oil on medium-high. Add spices, ginger, garlic and onions. Stir until spices are fragrant and onion begins to soften, 3-4 minutes.

2. Add lentils and water, bring to boil. Stir and lower the heat. Simmer, covered, 1-2 hours or more until lentils are completely soft.

This dish keeps in the fridge 3-4 days, and can be frozen for several months.

Serves 6.

Subzi Vegetables

Subzi is the Hindi word for vegetable. Roasted with whole cumin seeds, this is my version of a traditional Indian preparation. I roast the vegetables, but traditionalists cook them in a skillet on the stove. This dish has the benefit of being healthy, flavorful, unique and interesting without being overly spiced or sauced. The seeds add a little something, but the vegetables are center stage. Every time I serve this dish someone asks for the recipe, and it goes really well with nearly all cuisines. I served it last Rosh Hashanah with brisket, and it was a huge hit.

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2 lbs. cauliflower and/or broccoli florets
1 Tbsp. canola or other mild-flavored oil
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds

1.     Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place all ingredients in large baking dish and stir well.

2.     Roast 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are cooked through.

Note: This recipe works equally well with just about any vegetable: peas, string beans, carrots, potatoes or a combo thereof. Cooking times may vary, with smaller vegetables like peas, cherry tomatoes and string beans only needing about 20 minutes; and larger, denser things like potatoes and baby carrots taking about 40 minutes.  


Serves 6.



Apple Crisp


Oftentimes, Indian desserts are not, well, "dessert-y" enough for western palates. For that reason, I recommend something that integrates Indian flavors and ingredients with more traditional western desserts to complement this meal. This apple crisp features cardomom, ginger and cinnamon. If that doesn't appeal, consider mango sorbet topped with candied ginger or coconut macaroons.


4-5 apples, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 Tbsp. sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup margarine, softened

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. cardomon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place apples in greased square baking dish. Toss with 1 tablespoon sugar and lemon juice.


2.  In a medium-sized bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Crumble over apples and press gently.


3.  Bake 30 minutes, until topping is lighly brown and apples are soft.


A word on sourcing ingredients:

Both Wegmans and Whole Foods have expanded their Asian selections and most of the ingredients should be available there. If you have trouble finding anything, consider a trip to one of these Indian or Asian grocers:

  • International Food and Spices at 42nd and Walnut Streets (closed Tuesdays)
  • Dana Mandi Asian Spice at 42nd and Chestnut. This and the above mentioned West Philly outpost both have extensive selections of Indian and Pakistani groceries.
  • First Oriental Market at 6th & Washington in South Philly
  • Spring Garden Market at 4th and Spring Garden in Northern Liberties offers a wide range of Asian ingredients
  • Sun Seng Supermarket on Route 38 in Merchantville, N.J.
  • Nanee's Kitchen in Reading Terminal Market


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