Thursday, January 16, 2014

Another free-form Passover: tandoori-spiced lamb burgers

Arriving home from work at about 4:30 in the afternoon -- should I stop on the way, leave the car, and sniff and admire a local lilac bush, the only one in the vicinity, before the lilacs' time and lovely scent is over for another year? or should I just go home? I suppose parking the car, getting out, sniffing a bush, and then getting back in and driving off would look so odd -- there was nothing for it, after mixing a little cocktail and perhaps even sitting down for a minute, but to think about Passover dinner.



I won't say the Passover seder, since at my house we hardly do that. We content ourselves with the family seder plate, the matza, the egg, the charoset (a fruit and nut chutney symbolizing the mortar used by ancient Hebrew slaves to join the bricks of Pharaoh's cities), the parsley and salt water, and of course our traditional "shank bone." This is a drawing of a smiling, fluffy sheep which my daughter hurriedly made on a piece of scrap paper when she was about six, to stand in for the shankbone I forgot to buy that year. Such well-meaning substitutions do have precedents. There is a story of Union soldiers during the Civil War who, lacking supplies necessary to prepare charoset, placed a brick on their holiday table. Of course they couldn't dip their bitter herbs into and then eat the brick, nor can I roast my paper shankbone. In both cases we trust God understands. Besides, by now the "This is a Sheep" drawing has become a tradition.




But what's for dinner? In another nod to Pesach, we ate lamb. We made it easy on ourselves -- eventually -- by using fast-cooking ground lamb, plus a spoonful of exotica from the little tin of tandoori spice powder which came in a previous Wines of Chile live blogger tasting kit. Remember "Carmenere and curry"? Tandoori, it seems, is an Indian spice combination that you may create at home, using a number of supermarket specialties with an emphasis on turmeric, cumin, curry, coriander, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Unless you happen to have all these things on hand it might be far simpler to have it sent to you, if you please, from Ger-Nis Culinary and Herb Center, Brooklyn. The mix is named for the traditional clay oven, tandoor, in which a meat, often chicken, is baked after a good slathering in the spices. Hence, the abundance of recipes for "Tandoori-spiced chicken thighs" on line, and in non-retro cookbooks.

So, our free-form lamb burger recipe goes like this -- that is, it went like this after I regretfully sent my daughter back out to the store to buy ground lamb. Apparently either the grocery list was unclear or I was. Seeing and hearing only "lamb for dinner" she bought chops, thinking they would be all right. Drat, but some things cannot be substituted. This is the same dear child who drew the Sheep, what? -- fifteen years ago, can it be?

Tandoori-spiced lamb burgers

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 slice wheat bread, soaked in about 1/4 cup milk until the milk is completely absorbed, the moistened bread then broken up with a fork. Needless to say, meat and dairy products together, plus bread in a Passover dish, is all quite, quite unkosher
  • 1 tsp tandoori spice powder, half for the meat mixture, half for the sauce it will cook in
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup white wine 
  • 1/4 cup flour, to mix with 1/4 cup cold water and thicken the sauce before serving

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften.

While the vegetables cook, mix the milk-moistened bread, the ground lamb, egg, and (half the) spices. Form into four or five patties, and place them in the pan among the onions and celery. Turn the heat up and let the patties brown on one side; then turn them over. Add about 1/4 cup of any white wine to the pan. Add the remaining half of the spices, then about half a cup of water. Bring everything to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, half an hour.

This gives you enough time to prepare the rest of your dinner. Plain rice or couscous and a green vegetable would be very agreeable. By the same token, it gives you time to call whoever is manning the customer service switchboard half way around the world -- India? the Philippines? -- answering questions and troubleshooting problems you are having with your cell phone. Annelise did a bang-up job walking me through the inputting of six separate access codes required to get my phone working again (who is working for whom, may I ask?), plus the removing of the SIM card and the cleaning of it "with a clean dry cloth." Why yes, I was entirely prepared to do that, and didn't at all struggle with balancing my real phone on one shoulder while attempting to extract the SIM card and polish it with the tail of my blouse, all the while anxious about dinner bubbling away on the stove and talking to Annelise. Her accent was pretty. I wonder where precisely she might live, and what sort of tandoori-spiced breakfast she had just come from.

And our Passover wine? As with the milk and the meat and the bread, it was not remotely kosher, I admit. Miguel Torres 2007 Manso de Velasco cabernet sauvignon "Viejas Viñas," old vines. Refined, solid, a bowl of good fruit that has been kept firmly away, it seems to me, from all caramel syrups, vanilla beans, blueberry compotes, and chocolate sprinkles. Delicious. And I do hope your holiday has been happy, and more orthodox than mine. 



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