She loved us through her food – thinking of my Gran
Check out my article on Curry memories & Durban’s best Curries for Food 24
I often hear people mentioning enjoying a curry when the weather turns colder, as it has in South Africa. I grew up in a house where any weather was curry weather, all year round.
Natal summers, especially where my grandparents lived along the Durban coast were and are, uncomfortably hot. Balmy, if you’d like a more romantic spin on things.
I recall days in December, the air thick with humidity, and my brother and I eating stringy mangoes and plump litchis from my grandparent’s garden, the sticky juice dripping down our chins and elbows. Often lunch would be a hot chicken or lamb curry with huge melting potatoes and peas, the kind that’s best eaten with rice or roti or even soft white bread (the government loaves that my gran bought were just fine for us).
We drank bottles of Creras cool drink, similar to Cape Town’s Bashews that my grandparents bought in crates and stored in the bedroom that I shared with my parents when we were visiting. My brother and I marveled at those crates stacked one on top of the other and how they emptied as the week progressed and the house received an endless stream of guests. No invitations or calls were made in advance. People (friends, neighbours, family members) popped in and were welcomed with icy cold Creras (the clear creme soda and naartjie flavours were my favourite), ice cubes tinkling against the side of glasses wet with condensation.
Brows were wiped often with neatly pressed cotton handkerchiefs.
A cold drink was followed by my grandmother bringing out two bowls of curry (one meat, one vegetable), rice and pickles. Visitors sat at the table with simple plates, never cutlery and ate together.
Only now do I understand the pride my grandmother must have felt sharing her food with these people, feeding them, fussing over them. She was expressing love through food. A guest who could not stay long and who she knew would not be able to visit again for a while, was sent away with a Tupperware of snacks, pickles, a roti roll or sometimes even a slip of a plant they had admired in the garden.
Having lived under a Group Areas Act and having no formal education of their own, my grandparents had lived under very trying conditions. Isn’t it amazing that the life I lead is so privileged by comparison, yet I find the very same pleasure my grandmother did in serving a curry and rice to people who visit our home? A pleasure in loving them through my food.
For all its complications, life’s simplest pleasures are really the most rewarding.
While I don’t associate curries with just winter, I understand that they are better suited to colder weather. Here I share a healthy recipe for lamb curry similar in flavour to my grandmother’s, but without the oil she added (oh yes, it was more than just a glug). It’s simpler that you think and can be cooked in just over an hour, depending on the lamb you use and how fast you prepare the ingredients.
Note: a traditional Durban curry will be made in a reduced onion and tomato based, fiery sauce. This version that involves marinading the meat in a mixture of herbs, garlic, ginger and chilli is usually used to make the curry base for pilaf or biryani (breyani). It is also a version made by my mother and grandmother, that I love the most.
In the last month I’ve made a number of lamb curries, mostly for friends and guests and have not had the time to fiddle with taking pretty pictures. In any event, you will also be so enticed by the aroma you’ll find it pretty difficult to stop before you tuck in.
8 Servings (generous)
1,5 kg lamb pieces
For the marinade
15 g mint
15 g coriander, with stalks
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 medium spring onion, sliced
I T fresh ginger, grated
1 large green chilli or 2 medium chillis
1/2 lime or small lemon, juiced
2 T water, more if needed
2 T olive oil
1 medium onion or 1/2 large onion, sliced
2 fresh or dry bay leaves, medium
1 large cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 T curry leaves (fresh is best if you can get)
1 star anise
4 green cardamom pods
3 medium, firm tomatoes (blanched in hot water for 45 seconds, refreshed & skin peeled off), chopped.
1 t cumin
4-6 t medium or hot masala (your preference)
1/2 t turmeric
5-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters or smaller
2 t garam masala
1 cup water, plus extra
3/4 cup frozen peas removed from freezer
salt to taste
1. Blend all the marinade ingredients (listed before the oil), together with a hand held blender (or pound in pestle and mortar). Coat lamb well with this fragrant green paste and leave to marinate in a covered bowl overnight in the fridge. If you don’t have the time, leave to marinate for an hour, at least.
2. Add oil to pan and fry onions on medium heat till translucent and starting to brown slightly.
3. Add bay leaves, curry leaves, cardamom, star anise and cloves.
4. Add cumin, masala and turmeric and stir for 3 seconds. Take care not to burn the spices. Add a little more oil if needed and turn temperature down.
5. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. Cook for a few minutes, up to 10 until the tomatoes thicken and form a paste with the onions and spices. Add a splash of water if necessary. OR you could add the tomatoes after you add the meat. I use both interchangeably.
6. Add marinated meat using a pair of thongs, leaving any liquid that may have formed at bottom of bowl behind. Stir well to coat in spices and onion mixture. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn heat up to medium.
7. Add potatoes, salt and 1/2 cup of water and cook with the lid on for 25 minutes, stirring now and then.
8. Replenish with 1/2 glass of water if necessary and cook for further 25 minutes with the lid on, lowering the heat.
9. Cook on low for last 15 minutes without the lid. Add garam masala in last 10 minutes of cooking and mix well.
10. Add peas in last 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning and ensure all potatoes are cooked through (note: a softer variety may require a shorter cooking time and vice versa).
If the meat hasn’t softened to your liking, keep cooking on low heat, stirring and make sure the potatoes don’t break up.
11. Depending on how thick you like the gravy, you may add a few tablespoons of water, taking care not to make the curry watery.
Serve with fresh coriander, basmati rice and sambals, achar or pineapple salsa.
Oh! Lamb curry with peas and soft potatoes…, I can almost smell its heavenly aroma
I cant wait to try your receipe, thanks very much
What a wonderful recipe!! Thanks!!
Dear Ishay, I loved the story, and cannot wait to try your recipe. As an ex-Durbanite a good Durban curry is something special – we seem to be alone though with the need to add peas, am I right here? Kind regards
Oh wow that looks amazing Ishay, awaiting your return so you can practice 😛
A nice recipe to cook, I will be trying it again soon, with some different masalas, and with a slightly longer cooking time for the meat. I do like the lower oil content approach. Really worth trying.
Hi Barry, potatoes are hardly used in restaurant versions and it’s rare to find peas used too. It’s something that my Mother and our families always did, so it’s become part of our food tradition. Thank you for reading and happy cooking.
Dear Ming, Lynette, Polka and Mel- thanks for the lovely comments.
Thanks Ishay – BTW, I do in fact love potatoes and peas in my curry.
What a lovely slice of life from your memory bank! I think I must’ve been a voyeur in a past life, because I always feel so gleeful reading posts that give me a peek into someone else’s life!
I was all set on making lamb korma tonight, but that photo and the ingredient list is causing my resolve to waiver. I think I’m making yours tonight – an hour is not too long a wait for comfortfood.
Aaack, just read through the recipe properly and saw there’s an hour’s marinating time too. Would it be that horrendous to skip it? (do you sense my desperation?)
Thanks for reading- I also enjoy snippets of other’s lives related via their posts.
My mother often made lamb or mutton curry (which needs a longer cooking time) without marinading. This is just how my recipe has evolved in my kitchen. Cook without marinading. Also must mention, the curry will deepen in flavour and taste even better tomorrow.
Great blog…nice to find something like this with a South African Indian background
Thank you Romina- lovely to have you visit the blog
I have been looking for good South African Indian curry recipes and it seems like yours might just be the ones! Can’t wait to try them. Thanks for sharing
Hello Glenda. Thank you – hope you try and enjoy this recipe
hi Ishay. we tried ur recipe on the current cruise we r doing from florida to mt carlo. just to tell u thanks for the receipt. we did not cook it ourselves because the ship will not allow it. the chef did a decent job of it. we got hold of some unsliced bread an did a bunny with it. the fun was to see people eat it with a fork and knife. thanks once again
Hello. Thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate it!
The article made me so nostalgic, reminded me of life at my grandmum’s in Pietermaritzburg and has left me rather thirsty for a glass of Crerar’s Cola Champagne (if I’m spelling that right!)
was just looking for a recipe for a decent curry. stumbled upon this, read the comment and saw ‘Pietermaritzburg’… feeling a bit homesick
Thabk you 🙂 I just cooked this lamb curry and its amazing. Thank you
Hi Pearl. I’m so glad! Come visit the blog again soon
Hi Ishay. Well here I am standing in my kitchen with my iPad in my hand. Looking for something different and something new. I have surfed out tons of recipes but your one looks like the bomb. I am gonna give it a try. We are having a big get together tomorrow and have some different nationalities joining us. I will be doing very mild mince curry for the ladies and kids. The boys will trying your lamb. I hope I do your recipe proud. I will let you know. Cheers
Hi Will. Hope you had fun with the cookery weekend and that you enjoyed making this.
Hi Ishay, thanx for sharing your story. We’re from Durban now living in CT and …… Oh how I miss my very generous and very kind Indian friends 🙁
Anyway, the weather is good for curry 😉 so I’ve taken out the lamb from the freezer to thaw which means I am able to let it marinate over night. Unfortunately I don’t have fresh curry leaves and for that reason I will double up on cumin cos I love it!!
Although tomorrow is “Braai Day” we have having “Ishay’s Lamb Curry”
Will let you know the outcome
kindest regards Liz xx
Hi Liz. Thank you for writing to me- a lovely comment indeed! Hope you enjoy making the curry – a tip, depending on the lamb you have, you may need to cook it for longer, just add lamb stock or well seasoned water and cook on low for a little longer until the meat is tender. Woolies sells dried curry leaves if you’re looking. Have fun and happy Heritage day.
Hi I am an old Durban boy now living in Cape Town and enjoy cooking my own curries.
Could you perhaps be more clear what ingredients do you blend to make the green paste to marinate the meat.
Willie de Klerk.
Hello there Willie. Thanks for writing.
These ingredients form part of the marinade:
15 g mint
15 g coriander, with stalks
4 tsp ginger & garlic paste
1 large green chilli or 2 medium chillis
1/2 lime or small lemon, juiced
2 T water, more if needed
I hope you enjoy making it and let me know how it goes. Cook the meat longer at a low temperature if it’s still tough, topping with a little water as you go and check seasoning at end before you serve.
Ex Durbanite living in New Zealand. I miss many things but, most of all A good Durban Currie. This will be on the menu tomorrow !!!!!Thanks
Hello. Thank you for writing! I just want to say, if find your lamb is still tough, keep it cooking at a simmer with the lid partially on and keep topping with stock or water as needed. Keep lid off for final 5-8 minutes to allow sauce to thicken. Enjoy!
Thanks for an awesome recipe! Takes me back to my early childhood. The step by step pics are also very helpful.
A pleasure. Thank you for visiting!
Im only 39 days into marriage :):). Im still finding ways to impress the man!!!! Im gonna try out this recipe tonight, cant wait! Love these spices combination, Ta..
awesome – lamb curry in cold and snowy calgary tonight – thank you for sharing this brilliant recipe
Pleasure Penny. Thank you for writing. Hope to see you on the blog again soon (summer here in Cape Town, as you know.) 🙂
thank you so much for this, at last a recipe I can cook with all the ingerdints availible in normal shop… looking forward to giving this a try.
A nice Recipe I must say . I’m going to try it with Ghadra beans as opposed to peas but add tyme .do you think that this might change the flavour a bit
Hi there. Great idea, love ghadra beans! I’d perfer not to add thyme in this recipe, it’s strongly flavoured with mint and coriander, thyme will be lost.
Ishay – am I finally going to learn some of the closely guarded secrets of the famous Durban lamb curry??? In 25 years of trying to find that irresistible aroma and taste I’ve had to accept that us non-Indian dabblers will just never get it!! 🙂 LOVE the pictures you paint!
Thank you, Andy. As stated this isn’t authentic ‘fiery hot” Durban curry but it’s a version of my family’s I love the mint in the marinade and how it adds flavour. Keep cooking the meat down, adding a little water at a time and you should have a good curry. Hope you make it and enjoy 🙂
This is by far the most perfect Indian curry I have ever made myself. No more spending R60 for a rooti. Even my girlfriend who does not like spicy food had 2 helpings!
Great story line!!
I can still the great curries served in Durban…..nothing similar can be found in Australia unfortunately…
This story resonates so much with me as it reminds so much of my late grandmother <3 Food was undoubtedly the way she expressed her love for us.. and we felt it with every meal she prepared for us as you could taste the love and pride she put into her food! They for memories of taste, smell and love I will never forget. I once read that.. – cooking for someone is the most intimate thing you can ever do for someone you love.. as you take your time and prepare it.. and when they yet it.. they are nourished and you help sustain them and that is something special! – This is indeed the sentiment i feel when I think of my grandmother! Thank you for sharing this Ish 🙂 Also… I cannot eat a lamb curry with no potatoes… ever!!!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Love the potatoes in a curry too.
I absolutely adore your blog, I feel like I’m sitting at your kitchen table with yohr Gran- brings back powerful memories of my own Indian South African childhood. I loved the cola champagne from Maritzburg! Thanks for sharing- keep up the great work!
Thank you, Harshna. I appreciate your lovely feedback.
Am making this curry tomorrow, lamb marinating as we speak…. just one question do you end up with much sauce or not. Tia.
Hi Jo. This slipped into spam – sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner. The sauce depends on the meat, the potatoes and if you add more or less water. I’d say it’s medium and not too saucy but not dry like a bhuna. I hope you enjoyed making it.
Hi Ishay, I made this curry last week. It was absolutely beautiful, thank you! What Indian restaurants will you recommend in Cape Town?
Thanks so much for the recipe, I’ve just made it and it’s delicious. Looking forward to eating the balance tomorrow.
What a beautifully written blog, how can I find other recipes you may have posted?
Thanks so much for letting us know, Rob! So glad you enjoyed it.