Are you a lover of books? My father, the English teacher, instilled in us an appreciation for literature. When I find a book I love I want to yell about it from the mountain top. Instead, my friends are the beneficiaries of this enthusiasm, since I typically find every excuse to send them a copy of the new favorite. Last year the book my friends received was The Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens van der Post. This year it will be The Honey Thief, a beautifully written collection of fictional stories by Najaf Mazari, a Hazara Afghani refugee living in Australia, and his collaborator, novelist Robert Hillman.
In The Honey Thief, the authors carry us along, weaving one story into another, like a tapestry, rich in humor and humanity, of a world so different from ours—the Afghanistan we don’t see in the news. At the very end of the book there is a small collection of recipes, told as if you were right there in Mazari’s kitchen. Here’s an excerpt from the lamb qorma recipe:
Okay, the onions. In Afghanistan, we rarely fashion a meal without onions. What the world was like before onions were invented, I cannot imagine. So, the onions, three of them. Peel them to preserve as much of the outer flesh as possible….Once the onions are peeled, chop them up but not too fine. You need chunks of onion, not thin slices. Now heat some cooking oil in a big saucepan. I am serious when I say a big saucepan. For dishes like this, a big saucepan is your friend. Do you want to fill a smaller saucepan to the very brim? No.
This is going to take two hours. Read a book. Every fifteen minutes, put the book down and stir the saucepan. In this last hour, you are stirring the qorma, and you are reading your book. You started at two-thirty in the afternoon. Now it’s five in the afternoon. Turn off the qorma. If you are of my faith, wash and pray. If you are not, do whatever you must.
All of the recipes read like that, many with rough approximations of the amounts. For the following lamb korma (or qorma) recipe, we’ve stripped the recipe down to its essentials, making it easier to follow, but not nearly as entertaining as the original. I do recommend getting a copy of this book just for the pleasure of reading it. Mazari instructs us to serve his qorma with basmati rice. We didn’t have any rice so we served it with flatbread on the side instead. The stew is tangy and spicy and would be great with rice to sop up the extra liquid.
Use only full fat plain yogurt for this recipe. Low fat or non-fat may separate.
- 8 cloves
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
- 5 green cardamom pods
- 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds
- 5 Tbsp of light sesame oil or canola oil
- 3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 heaping Tbsp grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 heaping teaspoon paprika
- 1 stick of cinnamon, ground, or 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 4 very big, very ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks OR 1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, cut in quarters
- 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/3 cups full fat plain yogurt (can use Greek style)
1 Using a mortar and pestle, grind the cloves until fine. Add the peppercorns and grind them roughly. Add the cardamom pods and crush them with the cloves and peppercorns.
2 Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large, thick-bottomed pot with a lid. Add the chopped onions and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric to the onions, and stir to coat. Add the cumin, coriander, paprika and cinnamon. Stir in the ground cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns. Add the crushed garlic and the grated ginger. Cook for 2 minutes.
3 Add the tomatoes (with their juices) to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 4 minutes.
4 Add the lamb pieces to the pot, stir to coat with the spices, onions and tomatoes, and let cook for 4 minutes.
5 Stir in the water and yogurt and mix well. Add salt to taste. Cover the pot, bring to a simmer and reduce heat to a very low simmer. Cook very gently for 2 hours or more, stirring every 15 minutes or so. The stew should cook at a bare simmer until the lamb is very tender. Serve with basmati rice and/or flatbread.