Leftovers. It’s a bit of a catch-all word. At its worst it refers to those fridge lurkers you always meant to turn into a tasty dish and then forgot about: bits of meat blanketed under congealed fat; a bowl of gravy so ancient its top has cracked like parched mud; a heel of bread so hard you could brain a burglar with it.
At its best it’s the beginning of a new and delicious meal, one where you can smugly congratulate yourself on your thrift and ingenuity and have dinner table conversations about how awful it is that so many (other) people throw away perfectly good food.
Often it falls somewhere in between – like that edible but uninspiring cottage pie or fricassee you knocked up in a hurry because you didn’t want to waste what was left of the Sunday roast. I say ‘you’ but I actually mean me because I’ve done all these things at one time or another, especially falling back on safe old favourites.
I was going to turn our Sunday lamb leftovers into a spicy rice dish until I mentioned it to Him Outdoors and realised how underwhelmed he was. It’s a good recipe but I’ve probably cooked it once too often. So as it’s National Curry Week I had a re-think.
You can use this basic sauce to cook meat, fish or vegetables. And of course you’re not obliged to use leftovers: fresh meat works equally well (brown it first and either use a tender cut or increase the cooking time). These quantities should serve two very generously, three easily and four if you pair it with something like this Goan cauliflower curry.
4 tbsp oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A big thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 medium-hot chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped (or choose ones with a heat level you like)
1 tspn ground coriander
1/2 tspn ground turmeric
1/2 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn sweet paprika
4-5 lightly bashed green cardamoms (optional but good with lamb)
3-4 curry leaves (optional)
About 650g fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or 2 x 400g tins of tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 or 2 wineglasses of water
Salt, to taste
400-500 g leftover roast lamb (I used leg), cut into bite-sized chunks or equivalent in fresh meat
About 200g washed spinach, central spines removed if large, roughly shredded
Fresh coriander, to garnish
In a heavy pan, heat the oil and fry the onions gently, sprinkled with a pinch of salt, until they’re soft and golden-brown, at least 15-20 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chillies and curry leaves and fry for a minute or so, then tip in the dried spices and cook for a further minute.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes, add a pinch more salt, pour in the water and cook for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened somewhat. You can cook it ahead up to this point if the timings work better for you. Put in the lamb chunks and cook gently for about another 30 minutes (depending on how rare your lamb is) until the flavours have melded, adding more water if the sauce gets too thick. Adjust the timings if you’re substituting fish or vegetables.
Check the seasoning, scatter the spinach on top, put on a lid and cook gently until it has wilted, just a minute or two. Stir it through, scatter the curry with fresh chopped coriander and serve, either with rice, chapatis or naan and perhaps some minty, garlicky yoghurt and a fruity chutney on the side.