I sit upon damask pillows embroidered in gold. The worn threads gleam in the luster of brass diyas. The ghee lit flames gutter, pirouetting into silhouettes against the tapestried walls. Brass platters appear before me: long-grained rice tinged with the fragrance of pandan, thick orbicular chunks of roti, bowls of mint yoghurt, and tamarind chutney. Last of all emerges a tureen filled with lamb cubes bathing in a sauce of sinful spices.
I scoop a palmful of rice onto my plate. I add a steaming roti and some saag. A dollop of raita goes on the side. I ladle the creamy laal maas curry over my rice; its titian hues cascade over the slender ivory kernels. The first swallow is a conjuring trick. The scene shimmers; I close my eyes and when I open them I am a Rajput prince ensconced in my Jaipur palace. A silver orb hangs low outside my filigreed window. The aroma of turmeric and stewed lamb mingle with the night-blooming jessamine in a redolent atmosphere. I bask in my private quarters, amidst the trophies of my conquests, content in the knowledge that I am sovereign over all this splendor.
The heat of the curry sets my heart racing. I feel the blood pumping through my veins in a strident tattoo. Is this how the rajas felt whilst out hunting atop their elephants? A little rice, a smidgen of raita and the pain eases, but my tongue craves more. Another bite and I am filled with the courage of a hundred tigers. My eyes dilate to take in every detail before me. Is this the rage coursing through a hungry beast? A long soothing drink clears my aching throat, but my palate has been seduced. One more taste and I am ready to battle my most stalwart enemy. The hairs on my arm rise, waiting for the imminent attack. Is this fire what vanquished the approaching foe? The quiet moon and gentle air plead to soothe my fraught nerves. Their muted voices are no match for the imperious dish before me and its sultry flavor. Enervated, I do not know how much more I can withstand as my hand hastens towards the next morsel.
BT’s LAAL MAAS RECIPE
Serves 6 Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes [10 minutes preparation; 1 hour 10 minutes cooking]
WHAT YOU NEED
2 cups ghee (or clarified butter)
2 cups yoghurt
1/2 cup water
2 medium red onions, chopped
4 pounds (2 kilograms) lamb, cut into 1” pieces
3 bay leaves
4 pods black cardamom, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 Tablespoons coriander seeds, ground
10 fresh red chillies, halved
3 Tablespoons mustard oil
Salt to taste
WHAT TO DO
1. In a large bowl mix together the lamb, yogurt, salt, and mustard oil. Coat the mutton pieces thoroughly with the marinade.*
2. In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the ghee on medium heat for 2-4 minutes or until it begins to shimmer. Then add bay leaves, crushed cardamom, cumin seeds, cloves, and minced garlic. Let spices fry for 30 seconds or until they exude aroma. Be careful not to burn the spices which will result in a bitter flavor.
3. Add the chopped onion and sauté on medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until they turn golden brown.
4. Add the marinated lamb, red chili peppers, ground coriander, and turmeric powder to the pot. Sauté the meat for 8-10 minutes or until the lamb has a brown outer crust.
5. Add the water, reduce heat to low, and allow the mixture to simmer for 40 minutes or until meat is cooked through.
6. Serve laal maas with basmati rice or freshly prepared roti.
* BT Tip: While laal maas is traditionally made with lamb, if you do not enjoy the taste of mutton, feel free to use a hearty meat substitute like chuck shoulder from grass-fed beef to provide similar fat content.