You can’t escape food when reading Salman Rushdie. Start looking and suddenly it’s everywhere: Pyarelal’s saffron pulao in Shalimar the Clown, Sisodia’s feast in The Satanic Verses, the grandmother’s pantry in Midnight’s Children.
It’s the same with the real Rushdie; he’s a man surrounded by food. His marriage to Top Chef and cookbook author Padma Lakshmi is an obvious connection. But so is his involvement with At Vermilion, the Manhattan restaurant that once offered a tasting menu devoted to his work (complete with autographed novel to take home, goodie bag style). You think you’re reading an article about the fatwa and boom —out of the blue, it links to the author’s recipe for curry. Food just follows him.
Why Rushdie decided to give Parade magazine his korma recipe, I’ll never know (it doesn’t quite jibe with other articles on offer: “Fire Up the Griddle! Pancakes for Every Meal of the Day”). But his description of the family history behind the dish (it’s his son’s favorite as well) reminds me why food plays such a crucial role in his novels: Community comes together over a good meal.
Korma was a favorite dish in Midnight’s Children, too, but in a less heartwarming, more threatening context. “This, whatsitsname, is a very heavy pot,” that grandmother says, “and if just once I catch you in here, whatsitsname, I’ll push your head into it, add some dahi, and make, whatsitsname, a korma.” I decided to go with Rushdie’s version of the recipe instead – more lamb, less dismemberment.
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Making your own curry paste is a quick way to get a ton of flavor, so why buy the stuff from a store? If you have a food processor, it’s embarrassingly easy. Really. I’m blushing right now, thinking of all those times when I poured a jar of masala sauce over some rice. I was young!
The only problem with making your own is inevitably getting lost in the thousands of recipe variations available. Korma sauces often have a nut component, which gives the dish a creamier consistency, so I included almonds in this version but left the other ingredients alone. Adding the paste to the lamb earlier on lets the flavors stew a little longer, with a richer and more complex result.
1/4 cup blanched almonds
1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee), divided
8 cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 inch ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 pound lamb shoulder, fat trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes (some boneless and some on the bone)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
Chicken broth (optional)
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1. Bring 1/4 cup water to a boil, add almonds and remove from heat. Let soak 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, brown onions in 1 tablespoon butter over low heat until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon.
2. In a food processor, combine almonds and their soaking liquid, onion, cardamom, ginger, and garlic. Pulse until the mixture forms a paste.
3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to a large skillet. Add lamb and brown on all sides. Add coriander, chili powder, salt, and paste from food processor. Stir and bring to a simmer.
4. Mix in yogurt, cover, and cook over lowest heat setting, 60 to 75 minutes. After 30 minutes, if sauce is overly thick, add water or chicken broth as necessary. Add saffron and simmer 5 more minutes.
(Image of Salman Rushdie courtesy of Mariusz Kubik)