It is my birthday feast and my first choice is always lamb. I could do the usual barbecued lamb, but I wanted something a bit different this year. I drifted toward a lamb curry.
This decision did not really cut down my choices. One site listed 16 different curries—not even taking into account regional variations. Although my first thought was to make a lamb vindaloo, I am having several guest, so I did not want something quite so hot. I finally settled on lamb dopiaza—two onion lamb.
This dish was reportedly created when the cook of Akbar the Great accidently added too many onions to his lamb curry. While this dish is claimed by Hyderabadi cuisine, I found several Afghan recipes for the dish. This is understandable as—at the time of its invention—the Mughal Empire covered most of both countries. The Indian dopiaza has more spices and is frequently garnished with deep-fried onions, while the Afghan version is a much simpler dish garnished split yellow peas (matar ki daal) and lightly pickled red onions.
There is a wide variation in the recipes I found for this dish. Looking at the recipes I started to choose which ingredients to keep and what to discard. I decided against the Afghan version, because Jan is not overly fond of vinegar. I also decided against using tomatoes. When this dish was first made—in the 16th Century—these would have not been a common ingredient in Indian cooking. It came to me that I wanted to try to recapture the original Mughal recipe.
Making a matrix of the various ingredients and amounts in each of the eight recipes , it was easily apparent that almost all of the dopiaza recipes included: lamb, some form of oil, onions, garlic, ginger, cardamom, coriander, cumin, turmeric, yogurt, and garam masala. The amounts for each ingredient were sometimes wildly different—one used only 2 onions, another used 6, and one even used 14. I took this as my base recipe—these are, also, all ingredients that would have been readily available to the legendary Moghul cook.
Do Piaza means two (do) onions (piaza) and different recipes interpret this phrase in diverse ways. The original legend says that the cook simply forgot that he had added the onions earlier and added more after the lamb was tender. Some chefs think that this means that you should add twice as much onion as meat. Still others think that you should add onions prepared in two ways (boiled and fried) or even two different types of onion entirely. For my dish I will go with the legend and add some of the onions early—to be broken down into the sauce—and add more at the end—to be discrete chunks of cooked, but not mushy, pieces of onion.
In Indian cooking it is common to use some spices in two different forms—whole pieces added early in the cooking process and as a ground spice at or near the end of cooking. For some spices, a long cooking time will cook off their volatile aromatic elements. Adding these back, as ground spices, at the end of cooking—as a finishing spice—refreshes their aromas.
A common finishing spice in Indian cooking is garam masala, a blend of: Black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, mace, black and green cardamom pods, Indian bay leaf, and cumin. Looking at this list and comparing it to my matrix of ingredients, I found that about half of the recipes added some of these as whole spices at the beginning of the long simmer. I decided to add a cinnamon stick, some whole cardamom pods and an Indian bay leaf to the pot, while I slow cooked the lamb and onions.
I had thought to exclude chili peppers for the same reason that I had rejected the tomatoes. However, in exploring the topic, I found that the Portuguese had introduced chilies to Goa within 30 years of Columbus’ voyages. Chilies would grow almost anywhere and provided cheep spiciness that anyone could afford. By the late 1500’s it had spread throughout India, competing with the more expensive black pepper.
Examining my ingredients matrix, I found that most of the recipes used black pepper or chilies—only two used both and only two used fresh chilies. Most of the recipes were on the mild side— only one use a lot (1Tbs.) of dried chili. Thinking like a chef feeding a king, I decided to use the more expensive black pepper with a touch of this new ingredient, fresh green chili.
Note: As far as cooking techniques I have not tried to recreate the Mughal dish. I have used those that seem most reasonable to me to get the maximum flavor out of the ingredients. to go with my gosht dopiaza I made a rice pulao and saag paneer.
Karl’s Mughal Gosht Dopiaza – Two Onion Lamb
4 lbs. lamb stew meat (or boneless leg of lamb)
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. black pepper, ground, separate uses
1+ tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
4 Tbs. ghee, separate uses
4 yellow onions, separate uses
6 cloves garlic
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
6 green cardamom pods, cracked
1 black cardamom pod, cracked
2 Indian bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon (~ 2 inches)
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. garam masala
½ tsp. white pepper
1. Pat the lamb dry and sprinkle lightly with Kosher salt.
2. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry pan, until browned and fragrant, about two minutes.
3. Grind the spices to a powder and put them in a large bowl.
4. Mix in 1 teaspoon of black pepper and ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt to the bowl.
5. Stir the yogurt into the spices to make a make a paste.
6. Dice two of the onions and set them aside.
Note: I could have bough leg of lamb to make a boneless dish, but bones add so much flavor to slow cooked meat. I bought my lamb at a Middle Eastern Halal market which sells 4 cuts of lamb: The leg, the shank, the chops and everything else—front legs, neck, and ribs—cut into stew meat. I decided this is what I would go with, not necessarily a king’s dish but the cuts that the common people would have used.
7. Put one tablespoon of ghee into a large Dutch oven, over medium high heat.
8. Brown the lamb pieces, in batches.
Tip: When the pieces are done remove them to a plate to cool slightly.
9. Transfer the browned lamb to the bowl with the yogurt mixture and toss to coat.
10. Refrigerate and marinate the lamb for 3-4 hours.
Tip: Overnight is better.
11. Melt two tablespoons of ghee in the pot over a medium high heat.
12. Sauté the diced onions with half a teaspoon of salt, about eight minutes.
Tip: Use the moisture released by the onions to deglaze the lamb fond. Scrape the bottom of the pot well.
Note: The salt helps release the moisture and allows them to soften and brown more quickly.
13. Pull the onions to the sides of the pot.
14. Add the last tablespoon of ghee to the hole and sauté the garlic and ginger in the open space in the pot.
15. Mix the garlic and ginger into the onions and add the cardamom pods, bay leaves, cinnamon, turmeric, and three cups of chicken broth.
16. Add all of the contents of the bowl with the lamb to the pot.
17. Bring the pot to a boil and cover the Dutch oven.
18. Put the pot in a preheated 325º F oven.
Tip: You may cook this dish on the stove top, but I prefer the easily controlled, all-around, even heat of the oven.
19. Simmer/bake the lamb for 2 hours.
Tip: Stir the pot at the half way point.
20. Cut the other two onions into large bite-sized pieces.
21. After the hour and a half remove the pot from the oven and remove any excess lamb fat floating on top of the stew.
Tip: Take a few layers of paper towels to blot up some of the grease.
Note: Fat equals flavor. How much grease you remove depends on your own diet and preferences.
22. Stir the second batch of onions, the rest of the black pepper, the garam masala, and the white pepper into the pot.
23. Return the pot to the oven to cook the onions and reduce the sauce, 15-30 minutes.
24. Finely dice the Jalapeño and garnish the stew with them just before serving.