Mauritian food is one of the great Creole cuisines and is a combination of native French, African, Chinese, Portuguese and Indian, with many of the dishes created unique to the island. Some of the most common ingredients used in Mauritian recipes are tomatoes, onions, garlic and chillies. Spices are also a big part of the cuisine with turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves also used liberally.
While the Indian population has had a huge influence on the cuisine, it’s worth pointing out that Mauritian curries are unique. They rarely contain coconut milk and interestingly, often feature what are more typically known as European herbs such as thyme.
Due to the multi-national inhabitants of Mauritius along with the fact my mother spent a good amount of time living in Italy when she was younger, she is able to churn out international plates of exceptional flavour – Mauritian, Indian, Chinese, Italian, French. I have a list of my favourites that I can’t get enough of: her roast beef with garlic and cloves and macaroni cheese; achard (a Mauritian pickled vegetable salad); lasagne – without a doubt the best I’ve ever had, anywhere; coq au vin with white whine; chicken chow mein; escalopes with a parsley and parmesan coating served with spaghetti – I could go on.
This weekend my palette was after some spice, and my mum’s famous butter bean and lamb curry was calling out to me. A phone call during the week asking for the recipe in an email, a quick trip to the supermarket, and I was ready to indulge in a fabulous afternoon in the kitchen while Matt was out, blasting some old school Alanis Morissette and singing at the top of my lungs whilst stirring pots and pans. One of my favourite ways to while away the hours of a weekend.
Mum's Mauritian butter bean and lamb curry with carrot salad
Packed with flavours from the island – delicious and wholesome. Serve with the dressed carrot salad for the zingy freshness.
Makes 5-6 portions
For the curry paste
Whole bulb of garlic
1 tbsp cumin seeds
8 cardamom seeds
1 inch of fresh tumeric root (or 1tsp tumeric powder)
2 x thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
10 curry leaves
2 heaped tbsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
2-3 chillies, deseeded and sliced finely
For the rest of the curry
250g dried butter beans (soaked over night in lots of cold water)
4 bone in leg lamb steaks (or approximately 450-500g of any diced lamb)
1 large white onion thinly sliced
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
Coriander to serve
For the carrot salad
1-2 carrots per person, grated
Small bunch of coriander
Extra virgin olive oil
You first need to make your curry paste – you can do this earlier in the day or even the night before and keep it covered in the fridge to help you get ahead.
Dry fry (no oil) the cumin, cloves and cardamom in a non-stick pan on a low-medium heat until they become aromatic – keep moving them and be sure they don’t burn. Remove from the pan and grind in a spice grinder to a powder.
Tip If you don’t have a spice grinder, that’s fine. Be sure to grind them quite finely in a pestle and mortar before continuing. Whether using the spice grinder or the pestle and mortar, remove the cardamom husks after.
In your pestle and mortar, grind the garlic, ginger, turmeric, chillies and curry leaves along with your ground spices. Adding some rock salt to the mortar will help with the grinding process, as well as season it.
Tip I grate my garlic, turmeric and ginger first using a fine grater as my pestle and mortar is not heavy enough to pulp it on its own - must get a big stone one.
Once it’s quite smooth, add the curry powder and garam masala and mix well. Add a little water to the mix until you have a paste. Your curry paste is now complete.
Tip If you have a home made mix of curry powder or garam masala, then do use it. Otherwise, quality pre-mixed ones are readily available from supermarkets.
Tip If you like your curries hot, by all means add more chillies. I prefer a hint of heat, rather than crying over my dinner – my threshold is not that high. The two little chillies I used are of a very hot variety, and they provided enough fire for me. Matt would have liked it hotter, so I may add a third next time.
After soaking the beans overnight, thoroughly rinse them in lots of cold water and put in a large pan. To prepare your meat, chop them into cubes and remove any gristle or fat they may have. Put the chunks in the same pot as the beans – there’s no need to brown them first.
Tip The bits of bone in the legs that are left after cubing your meat is for adding flavour to the curry rather than eating. Although if you’re partial to bone marrow (the part my dad loves best), then feel free to suck it out when the curry is done – yum.
Cover the beans and meat with cold water (up to around 1-1.5 inches above the contents) and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Lots of scum will float to the surface – keep skimming this off every time you see it with a large metal spoon. Don't pour this down your sink as it's mostly fat - tip into a sandwich bag and discard.
Stir occasionally so nothing gets stuck to the bottom, and cook with the lid on until the beans are partially done but still too hard to eat. If the water gets low, top it up. You want to end up with the water covering the contents by about an inch once this stage is complete – too much and your curry will be too watery. Remember it’s easier to add then take away and you can always add more later.
To start making the curry, fry your onion in some hot oil in a separate pan until brown (but don't burn them) – I use a wok at this stage as it’s non-stick and holds a large volume. Add your curry paste and cook for a few minutes on a low-medium heat – again, don’t let it burn. Add the can of chopped tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes or so.
Once your curry paste and tomatoes are cooked, pour the whole contents of the beans and meat into the wok – water and all. Stir well. You then want to cook the beans and meat in this curry paste for the remainder of the time it takes for the beans to become nice and soft – probably 45-60mins, but keep checking. If the liquid gets low and the beans are still not cooked, add a little more to just cover them again.
Tip You can decide on your curry consistency at this stage – if you do want it more saucy, then add water accordingly. I like my sauce quite thick so once the beans were cooked, I kept the lid off and let the sauce reduce down until I was happy with the consistency.
In the meantime, make your carrot salad. Grate your carrots, add chopped coriander, olive oil and lemon to taste. I love lemon, so I add quite a lot and find the fresh sharpness works very well with the packed flavour from the curry.
Once your beans are adequately soft and your sauce has reached your desired consistency, it’s ready to bowl up. Sprinkle with some fresh coriander and serve alongside the carrot salad and either some chapattis (my preference) or rice (good for mopping if you ended up with a more liquid sauce).
The lamb comes out incredibly tender and the wonderful creamy consistency of the beans is beautiful, with the carrot salad providing a welcome sharpness and crunch to the meal.
This curry freezes very well, so make a vat of it and save some portions for when you’re hankering after mamma’s cooking again.