Life Is A River . . . also, you should go to the Indian grocery in Burlington

A note before the notes on recipes from this week – I’ve had many recommendations for Indian cookbooks from customers and friends, all of which I’ve acquired because I would never pass up the opportunity to acquire a cookbook. Here’s what I’ve added to my collection recently:

The one of these that I’ve cooked from enough now to fully recommend is the New Indian Slow Cooker (yes, you want this book!). The Sanjeev Kapoor book is coming up to being fully recommended, too. Probably the others ones are also delightful. I’ve also started exploring this blog by Mallika Basu that has enticing dishes to try out. Now, for some recipes:

Chicken Tikka Masala

Why is life like a river? Because just as you can’t step into the same river twice, you can’t necessarily have the same chicken tikka masala twice, either.  Not because consistency isn’t my thing (although it’s not). I decided I didn’t prefer the recipe I chose for Tuesday and I thought “oh, it will be different customers, no one will know if I switch to an entirely different version of this dish.” Multiple Tuesday customers came back for seconds later and may or may not have been sorely disappointed. So after Thursday I switched again and my final solution was a compromise between multiple recipes that is, frankly, awesome. I’ve adjusted it for normal home kitchen portions as follow:

  • 2 1/4 pounds of skinnless boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 red onion


  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried cilantro leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried mint leaves (I use the Vermont tea version at the Coop because the leaves unfurl into full mint leaves)
  • 1 c. buttermilk


  • 28 oz can tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 3 Tb butter
  • 1 Tb curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt (plus more later to taste)

Cut the chicken into chunks about 1 1/2 – 2 inches square, Mix together the marinade ingredients, mix with chicken, and put in the fridge to marinate for 2 hours.

While the chicken marinates, start the sauce. Melt the butter in a small skillet and add the spices, mix well and cook briefly until fragrant. Stir together all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low heat.

After two hours, dump the chicken and marinade into the sauce, add a red onion minced, and cook on high until the chicken is cooked through – about 4 hours. Serve over rice.   

 This spice mix turns meat a satisfyingly bright red.

This spice mix turns meat a satisfyingly bright red.

Lamb Rogan Josh

Why should you go to the Indian grocery store in Burlington (it’s in the little shopping plaza after Al’s French Fries heading south on Williston Road)? It goes back to a comment on an online recipe for Szechuan Beef that has been annoying me for months now. It wasn’t my recipe or comment, but the commenter was complaining that the author called for Szechuan Peppercorns without offering a substitute for people who didn’t have any Szechuan peppercorns, and that’s inconsiderate. 

Here’s the thing – there is no good substitute. Or, at least, no good substitute that is more likely to be in your cupboard than Szechuan peppercorns. They have a very distinctive flavor (you can read more about my thoughts on them in this earlier post). While there are many tasty beef dishes that can be prepared without this ingredient, the Szechuan Beef dish was not one of them. The commenter may have been correct that this is totally unfair, but the people in that particular region of China weren’t thinking of the grocery stores (or Amazon ordering habits) of American readers centuries in the future while they were busy developing a cuisine. 

On a similar note, here is what I’ve learned in the last Indian week after my trip through the appropriate aisles of the grocery store:

Black salt does not taste the same as table salt (it isn’t black, either); black cardamom does not taste the same as green cardamom; Kashmiri chili powder is not the same as chili powder.

I already suspected that just because things have similar names does not mean that they taste the same. Luckily, all three of these ingredients taste wonderful and if you’re interested in buying them you can make the following recipe for Lamb Rogan Josh. It’s my variation on a recipe posted by The Kitchn. There are a lot of ingredients, be forewarned. I’ve offset them as bullet points in the recipe below. Also, this is portioned for a very large party (or stocking your freezer) – reduce it by a third for a more reasonable family portion. 

Create your spice mix. Toast

  • 1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks broken up
  • The seeds from 1 black cardamom pod
  • 1 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

until just fragrant. To do this properly you need to toast each separately (to save time I cluster things by similar size & density). Let them cool. Grind in a spice grinder until they’re powder. Mix with

  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 Tb. kashmiri chili powder
  • 5 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 Tb. black salt


  • 6 pounds of boneless lamb shoulder

into 2″ chunks – if there are large fat deposits, trim them (or not, that’s a personal preference of mine). Note that you’re about to make a lot of lamb. You can cut this recipe in half or in a third, just be sure to divide your spice mix accordingly.  

Rub the spice mix into the lamb and let sit in a covered bowl for 20 minutes. 

While the lamb sits, get ready;

  • 2 cups of good quality whole plain yogurt whisked with
  • 2 Tb corn starch


  • 1/2 cup chicken stock.

Heat oven to 250.

Brown the lamb in canola (or other neutral) oil in a skillet, in batches to avoid crowding. Put the lamb that is browned in a Dutch oven or other braising vessel. When all is browned, pour the stock into the pan where you’ve been doing the browning to catch up all the tasty browned bits and add that to the braising vessel. Add

  • 3 whole habaneros
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

and the yogurt mixture. Put loosely covered in the oven and cook until the lamb is soft, stirring once or twice. This should take 2-3 hours. 

At some point towards the end of the cooking, thinly slice

  • 3 onions

and brown them in olive oil with a generous pinch of salt over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until they are well caramelized. 

Once lamb is cooked, add the meat (but not the liquid) to your serving bowl. Remoce the habaneros. Pour the remaining liquid into a large skillet with high sides. Mix

  • 2 Tb cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup of cold water.

You are now going to simmer the liquid and adjust the salt and heat levels (if desired) – I add a goodly spoonful of Szechuan chili paste at this moment, if you have any Butterfly Bakery ghost pepper hot sauces those would also work well. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and cook until it’s a thin gravy consistency. Mix this back in with the lamb and add in the onions. Serve over rice. 

Curry Leaf Dal

Just for something simpler after those last two, let’s look at the very simple dal recipe. Dal is technically any “split pulse” and I use a combination of toor dal, red lentils, and sometimes split mung beans and/or yellow peas to make this dish. You can use whatever you like, but I recommend combining more than one kind. 

  • 2 cups dal
  • 2 Tb canola oil (or other neutral oil – if you aren’t concerned with making this vegan, you can use ghee or butter)
  • 3 sprigs fresh curry leaves (I believe they are currently in stock in the fresh herbs section of Hunger Mountain Coop)
  • 2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (grated fresh turmeric root tastes even better if you have it, increase the amount to 1 Tb grated)
  • 1/4 tsp hingh (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp + 1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Cover the dal well with water and let soak 30 minutes, drain.

Heat oil in the bottom of a soup pot. Add the curry leaves, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick, and turmeric and cook briefly until fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients, including drained dal – holding out the 1 tsp of salt. Stir to coat everything with the spices. Add 4 cups of water and simmer until the dal is soft and begins to disintegrate into a thick soup. Adjust the water while you’re cooking to make it your preferred consistency. Stir in remaining 1 tsp of salt at the end (taste it first and decide if you want more or less). Remove the cinnamon stick, the stem of the curry leaves, and about half the leaves themselves – they taste good to eat but I only want a few in each bowl, not a whole salad’s worth. Serve hot with rice. 

Bhapa Doi

A very simple, very delicious dessert.

I used this recipe by Sanjeev Kapoor. I altered it (of course) as follows:

  • Use Butterworks Farm whole Jersey milk yogurt
  • Add 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Instead of pistachios, almonds, and raisins, I topped it with crushed Maria tea cookies (because that’s what they do with sweetened condensed milk in Macau and I like it). These cookies are available in the Mexican section of Shaw’s. They’re cheap and they also taste great with peanut butter. 
 I never did get a picture of the dessert before it was eaten. 

I never did get a picture of the dessert before it was eaten. 

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