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Lamb Curry with Pumpkin (Gosht)

This is the quintessential dish of India, particularly in the north, where meat eating is more prevalent. Every family in northern India boasts a special way of cooking or seasoning gosht, the secret of which is regarded as a prized possession and passed on from one generation to another with great traditional fanfare.

But most Indians will agree that the people of Delhi, having inherited the Moghul legacy, have the most interesting interpretations of gosht. Among the Delhiites, any seasoned, spice-braised meat is called gosht, which literally means meat but usually refers to goat or sheep meat. Lamb makes a wonderful substitute. Gosht can be prepared plain or include vegetables, such as potatoes, turnips, okra or pumpkin; fruits, such as plums, dried apricots or raisins; or nuts, such as cashews or walnuts. Like any braised dish, gosht tastes even better the next day.

The leaves of the cassia tree have a slightly clovelike aroma and flavor and are available dried from Indian grocers. Although they are also known as Indian bay leaves, they are not related to European bay leaves (Laurus nobilis). If cassia leaves are unavailable, the same quantity of European bay leaves may be used, although they will impart a somewhat different taste.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. lean lamb shoulder meat, trimmed and cut
      into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3 black or green cardamom pods
  • 2 cassia leaves
  • 1 Tbs. peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbs. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 cups chicken stock or water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1-lb. piece pumpkin or butternut squash,
      peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch
      pieces
  • 1 Tbs. garam masala (see related recipe
      at left)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:

In a large, heavy, flameproof baking dish over high heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the oil. When hot, add a few pieces of the lamb and sear until they are lightly browned all over but not cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining lamb.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the remaining 2 Tbs. oil to the baking dish. When hot, add the onion, cardamom and cassia leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the ginger, garlic, coriander and turmeric.

Return the lamb to the baking dish along with the tomato, tomato paste, stock and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork, about 2 hours. Alternatively, place the covered baking dish in a preheated 350ºF oven for 2 1/2 hours.

About 20 minutes before the meat is done, stir in the pumpkin, cover and continue cooking until the lamb and pumpkin are tender and cooked through. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer the curry to a warmed platter, taking care not to crush the pumpkin. Sprinkle with the garam masala and cilantro and serve immediately. Serves 2 to 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring India, by Julie Sahni (Time-Life Books, 2001).