August 26, 2013
One of the most requested dishes when I conduct cooking classes is Lamb Korma – a dish that had gained acclaim largely through the Indian restaurant culture in the West. But, when I press folks to explain what they know about korma, they can’t get beyond the fact that they simply love the richness and decadence of this dish. They often think it’s only paired with lamb because that’s one of the few options on menus.
In order to successfully make this dish at home, I believe one needs to break down the mystery so it’s more understandable. A korma simply refers to a type of dish made with protein, yogurt, cream perhaps, nuts like cashews or almonds, and/or coconut milk. Thus, it’s a creamy, spiced gravy that is often accented with sweet notes from dried fruit. For the difference between curry, curry powder, and gravy, check out this article I wrote for ChicagoNOW.
Obviously, lamb will go well with this sort of spicy/sweet pairing, but so will most other proteins. I’ve made kormas with chicken, beef, tofu, and now with tempeh. I know many of you non-Indians love this sort of dish, but realize that it is the type of curry that has its roots in Muglai Cuisine..and tradition drawn from the Muslim courts and traditionally served on special occasions. It is not a curry that we eat every day nor one that you would want to, especially since it is laced with decadent creams, etc.
That being said, I will show you how to sub out some of the heavier ingredients to clean up this dish to the point that you could likely get away with serving it more often. Keep in mind, the lamb version will go into Book 3. Here, you’ll get the tempeh version. You can sub any protein in for the tempeh, however. Baked tofu and/or paneer would be delicious as well if you want to keep it vegan/vegetarian.
Don’t be scared by all the ingredients and steps. They are necessary and well worth the effort.
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked
1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked
2 8 oz. packages tempeh, diced in 1-inch cubes (4 cups) *
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
10 whole cloves
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2-3 green Thai, Serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed
6 tablespoons ghee or oil, divided (I use grapeseed)
1 4-inch cinnamon stick
1 large onion (red or yellow), thinly sliced (2 cups)
pinch of coarse sea salt
3 cups water, divided
3 large tomatoes, diced (5 cups)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1. Soak cashews and raisins separately in boiled water. I used boiled to speed up the process. You could also soak them overnight in room-temperature water. Set them aside to soften while you prep your remaining ingredients.2. Place the tempeh in a shallow dish and sprinkle the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and turmeric over it, being careful to try and cover all the pieces. Gently mix. Set aside.
3. In a small, dry sautee pan, heat cloves, cumin, coriander, cardamom, and peppercorns over medium-high heat until the spices are reddish-brown and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Once roasted, immediately transfer to a plate. Once cooled, grind in a coffee grinder reserved for spices or in a mortar and pestle.
4. Grind ginger, garlic, and green chiles in a food processor until smooth. You will have about a 1/2 cup of paste. Mix the ground spices with this paste and set aside.
5. Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a large, wide sautee pan (I used a 6-quart pan) over medium-high heat. Add tempeh and cook a few minutes until lightly browned. Remove to a plate.
6. Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee or oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon stick, onion, and pinch of salt. Cook until slightly browned, about 3 minutes, mixing occasionally to avoid sticking.7. Add your spice-ginger-garlic-chile paste and 1 cup of water. Cook until browned, about 3 minutes.
8. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, drained raisins, salt, red chile, and 1 cup water. Once this mixture comes to a boil, turn your heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes, mixing occasionally. Cook until the tomatoes break down and your dish becomes a thick gravy. If you want it thinner, just add a little more water.
9. Add the tempeh pieces slowly back to the mixture and cook until heated through, about 6-8 minutes. You may want to turn the heat up slightly.
10. Blend the drained cashews in a Vita Mix, blender, or food processor with 1 cup water. Add this to your curry and mix through. Cook another minute or so.11. Remove the cinnamon stick and garnish with cilantro. Serve over rice or with roti or naan.
It’s a bit of an acquired taste. I’ve never been a huge fan, but really enjoyed it in the korma. You should stick with the more bland-flavored tempeh rather than soy-flavored options for this dish.
**Ways to save time: you can prep the cashew cream and the spice mixture ahead of time. I typically keep both on hand to grab whenever I need them.
Aria’s tip (because she helped me type up this post and claims it is hers…): “prep everything the day before you make the dish!” What a budding chef!!