Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lamb Curry – Sautée de Mouton au Curry


Sadness flies on the wings of the morning 
and out of the heart of darkness comes the light. 
- Jean Giraudoux 

Husband flew down to the south of France last Monday. He joined his sisters to say a final goodbye to his mother, Madeleine. Her last wish, this simple, homey, old-fashioned woman, was to be cremated, her ashes blended with those of her husband and her brother and the ashes strewn into the wind. She was a woman who asked very little of others, who gave much, gave what she could, and her passing, though expected, was sad indeed.

I was in the kitchen with my mother-in-law shortly after JP and I had announced that we would be getting married, helping her with the dishes after a Sunday lunch and she leaned towards me and confided “We knew it was serious when he brought you home to join us for Christmas dinner; just the very act of him bringing you here to meet us and we knew. He never brings girls home!” And we bonded just like that. Of course, there was the ritual pulling out of black and white photographs of American soldiers, the army men who liberated their northern French city at the end of the war, who brought them chocolate and cigarettes and made them feel proud, happy and secure once again. The tiny photos with the signature and a personal note written across the back was an object of pride and memory for these good, grateful people and it was shown to me excitedly as they recounted tales of meeting those Americans, the only Americans they had ever met before me some forty or so years later. They were tickled pink.

And I gave them their first grandson, a gift indeed.

Baking with grandmère

Snuggles with grandmère and grandpère

They accepted me with all of my oddities, my stumbling, imperfect French, my American ways and my Jewish religion, accepted me as a welcome part of their family. Over the years, I spent innumerable weekends and vacations in their home, innumerable Sunday lunches at their table eating blanquette, poulet roti frites, pot au feu or roast beef. Innumerable summer afternoons up in the branches of the big cherry tree in their yard or my arm stuck deep into the raspberry bushes tenderly pulling off each bright red berry, playing boules, petanque with the kids, bare feet in the soft grass. Innumerable Christmases watching the boys hang decorations and tinsel on the tree, set up the tiny crèche (that my little Jewish son explained as “Marie, le bonhomme, le bébé et les animaux”…), exchanging gifts.

Life was simple and cozy chez grandmère et grandpère

What a treat for the little boys to spend holidays and vacations with grandmère and grandpère out at the house on the hill, in the lost little village of barely 300 souls surrounded by green and cows and countryside. They were spoiled as only indulgent grandparents can spoil. We were living in Italy and as soon as Clem was old enough to fly unaccompanied, at the grand old age of 4, we began sending him north. Two years later he was joined by his baby brother, the fragile one, the persnickety one. I warned Madeleine that he was a tough one to deal with, especially in all matters food. I sent her a list of his likes and dislikes and she laughed and told me not to worry, she had years of experience dealing with children. A week or so later, I called to check in, and check up on the boys. “How is Simon doing?” I asked, worried out of my mind. “Is he eating?” “Oh!”, she assured me, “I have absolutely no problem with Simon! He eats everything I give him…clean plate at every meal!” “Oh, what are you feeding him?” I asked, wondering what I had been doing wrong for all these years. “White rice! I ask him before every meal what he would like, he answers ‘rice’ and I make him rice and he cleans his plate!” she said, without a hint of irony in her voice, proud as a peacock.

In grandpère's vegetable garden with Tonton Claude

Games in the garden under the cherry tree

She and I were as different as night and day, our backgrounds, our upbringing, our ideology and outlook on life, but we got along like a house on fire. She was kind and gentle, as smart as she was simple and straightforward and offered advice when I asked for it. We may have disagreed on how to raise children, feed and clothe them, but she loved the boys and they loved her and their relationship was perfect. She sat them at the kitchen table and let them help her cook, peel vegetables and press pâte sablée into the pie dish. She and my father-in-law taught them card games and board games with the patience of saints, racking up hours upon hours of rummy and scrabble, boggle and belotte, treating the boys as intellectual equals. Mornings spent in the vegetable garden with grandpère, afternoons in the tiny plastic swimming pool or sitting under the cherry tree looking at comic books, always rewarded with an ice cream. Over the years, my boys learned so much from their grandparents, mostly the joy of spending time with another generation.

When JP arrived back home, I had prepared a hot meal for him, a cross between his simple lamb curry sautée and his Sweet and Savory Lamb Stew with Raisins. A hot meal, a warming, soulful, filling meal to welcome him home and comfort his weary body and his sore heart. Dessert was my Ricotta Tart with Pears (this week’s Plated Stories’ recipe). Clem joined us and we dined as a family to the shimmering glow of the Hanukkah candles.


Stewing lamb (shoulder, neck, chops, etc) for 4 – about 800 g to 1 kg – in large chunks
Margarine + olive oil for sautéing
About 2 Tbs flour
1 large yellow or white onion, peeled, trimmed and coarsely chopped
½ red or green pepper, cleaned, trimmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/3 to ½ green chili (mild or hot, as you like), trimmed, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed but left whole
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsps good curry powder
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 medium long or round zucchini, peeled and cubed
2 Tbs golden raisins

Heat about a tablespoon each of margarine and olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven until hot and steaming. Add the chunks of lamb and brown on all sides. Remove the lamb from the pot onto a plate when browned.

Put more margarine and olive oil in the hot pot and add the chopped onion, red or green pepper, hot chili and the garlic clove and sautée, stirring often, until the onion is tender, transparent and beginning to color around the edges. Remove and discard the clove of garlic. Add the flour and, stirring continuously, cook for another 2 – 3 minutes until it no longer smells like flour. Deglaze with a bit of water (melt and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot) and then stir in the tomato paste, the curry powder, the bay leaf, salt and pepper. Add the lamb back to the post and add water just to cover. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes, add the cubed zucchini and the raisins, cover the pot again and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour or until the meat is fork tender.

When the lamb is tender, check the sauce: taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt or pepper as needed; if the sauce is too watery, simply allow to simmer uncovered for a bit until it thickens.

Serve hot over rice or couscous grains.


Rambling Tart said...

She sounds like such a lovely woman. I'm so glad you experienced her acceptance and love regardless of your differences. Wishing you all comfort. XO

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wonderful memories. JP's mother must have been a lovely lady.

Your lamb curry looks divine and ever so comforting.



Jenni said...

I am so sad for JP that he has lost his mom. And for you, because your loss is great as well. Thank you for sharing just a bit of your lives with her.

What a wonderful stew. Perfect for cold days and sad hearts.

Jeanne said...

A wonderful post - and how lucky both JP's parents and your boys were to know each other as well as they did. A glorious stew too - warming and comforting at a time like this. Hugs to you all x

Jill Colonna said...

Jamie, I'm so sorry to hear about JP's mother. I couldn't help smiling at your rice story - Madeleine sounded quite a character and how she brought you into the family - albeit with all these differences - made her a particularly wonderful Belle-Maman.

This stew looks the ideal nurturing food, candles, warm hearts. Hugs x

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

A lovely tribute to your mother-in-law, and how lovely of her to welcome you to the family with such graciousness.

Stacy said...

I couldn't help it. The tears just rolled down my face as I read your wonderful tribute to your mother-in-law, Jamie. What a blessing she has been in your life and the lives of your boys. She will always be amongst you as you remind each other of her generosity of spirit and the times you've spent together.

Your lamb curry is beautiful, as only a warm bowl of home comfort can be.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

Weren't you blessed to not only find the man of your dreams but to find his mother a true friend who accepted you, quirks and all.

Your lamb curry would please me immensely.

Pam said...

What wonderful memories. I loved the "I fed him rice" part of the story.

Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things said...

Oh Jamie, what a beautiful tribute xoxox

Nuts about food said...

A beautiful piece to remember and honor the life of a simple yet special woman.

dentistvschef said...

What a speecial tribute, i guess she just live within your beautifull memories then.....
as a lamb person, i used to spiced up in a heavy curry, never made this kind of simply stew before, sounds a great idea!
nice to know you then...

domenicacooks said...

Jamie, even in moments of sorrow your writing is filled with life and love and gratitude. Thank you for sharing these memories. Thinking of you, my friend. xo

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

What a beautiful, touching post, Jamie. I lost my mother a year ago so know how it feels. I can feel your affection for her in what you have written and can imagine the happiness you gave her through your children. So sorry for the loss for all of you. Healing thoughts and prayers are coming your way.

Cheryl Bennett said...

Wonderful post, my friend. So sorry for JP, family, You, Clem & Simon.
The stew looks like comfort in a bowl. xo

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman indeed Jamie! People with open minds and hearts are to be treasured :)

dervla @ The Curator said...

I'm sorry for your loss, wow that was one lovely tribute.

Barb | Creative Culinary said...

A lovely tribute Jamie; your love for her is woven throughout this post. I'm certain this food was the epitome of comfort food. Take care...Barb

Carolyn Jung said...

My late-Dad was a sucker for a good lamb curry. Every time I enjoy that dish now, I can't help but think of him. Thanks for the memories.


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