Technology in the Kitchen

13 Jan

Recently I’ve been reading Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro, which is a history of women and cooking in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on the emergence of home economics and “scientific cookery”. The housewifely arts were elevated from mere drudgery to an exact science, as new schools taught women modern ideas about hygiene and nutrition.

But the ideas that home economists put forward at the time nowadays seem to 21st-century eyes outlandish at best and horrifying at worst. For example, nutrition experts at the time did not yet know about vitamins, and thought that the only way that vegetables could become digestible would be to boil them to mush. The prescribed cooking time for asparagus was 45 minutes. Yes, not 4-5, 45! And to add insult to severe injury, they’d then smother it in white sauce, which was essentially an unseasoned béchamel. It makes my stomach turn over just to ponder it.

But despite their misguided approach to vegetables, these women were trying to standardise cooking using very primitive equipment, something which must have required a lot of effort. They had to work over coal-powered stoves, where they did not have the luxury of turning a dial to increase or decrease heat. They didn’t have electric mixers or blenders.

After learning all of this, I felt spoiled. Sure, I’ve complained when the hob won’t respond to my every whim, and I’ve splashed myself a few times in blender explosions. But that I have these machines in the first place? It’s incredible.

See, I enjoy making things from scratch, whether it’s pie crust or pesto. But I’m also all in favour of technology which makes scratch cooking easier. For example, a recipe for curry can be intimidating because of the number of ingredients that have to be prepared. But what would take a lot of time and brute force with knives and a mortar and pestle takes seconds with a food processor.

Mini Magimix!

One of the recipes for which I use my little processor is a herby lamb curry that would give the ladies of the 1890s conniption fits. The combination of loads of fresh coriander, green chilis, garlic and ginger in this curry gives it a fresh, almost citrusy taste. Onions and fennel seeds provide base notes, and coconut milk rounds it at the end. It’s particularly good with plain white rice to soak up the sauce.

Green Herb Lamb (via Curry Easy by Madhur Jaffrey)

Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons lemon juice
300g bunch fresh coriander, lower non-leafy stems trimmed off, chopped
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3-4 small green chiles, coarsely chopped
0.5 teaspoon ground turmeric
1.5 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons neutral oil
0.5 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
650g boneless stewing lamb, cut into 3cm pieces
200ml coconut milk, from a well-shaken can

Making the Thing

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Put the lemon juice, 120ml of water, coriander, ginger, garlic, chiles, turmeric and salt (in this exact order) into a blender or a food processor. Blitz it until it looks like a well-combined pesto.


In a Dutch oven, warm the neutral oil over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the fennel seeds, then the onion. Stir and fry until the onions are starting to brown, anywhere from 3-6 minutes. Add the meat and increase the heat to high. Fry until there’s no sign of pink on the meat, and the pieces have developed some brown crust.

Lamb frying with fennel seeds and onions.

Add the green herb paste from the food processor to the pot and bring to a simmer. It won’t look like enough liquid to cook the meat in, but you don’t need to add any more.

The magic begins.

Cover the pot and put in in the oven for between 60-75 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven, then add the coconut milk. Bring the curry back up to a very gentle simmer, then serve.

Mmm, lamby herby goodness.


5 Responses to “Technology in the Kitchen”

  1. Tom January 13, 2012 at 6:18 PM #

    I’ve eaten pretty much everything Sarah has blogged about. They are delicious. (I would go on, but you know I’m biased.)

    The idea for this one came from a takeaway in Edinburgh, and Sarah’s more than lives up to it. And I was very surprised that the green herb turns out to be coriander – it tastes more interesting here!

  2. Tom January 13, 2012 at 6:19 PM #

    Also, look at the Mexican flavours in this. I challenge someone to make green herb lamb fajitas!

  3. Erin January 15, 2012 at 1:32 AM #

    This makes my mouth water and I am not even a lamb fan!!

    • Sarah January 15, 2012 at 4:24 PM #

      I think you could make a really good version with chicken, too.

  4. Alana January 15, 2012 at 10:39 AM #

    I am so going to make this – it looks amazing!

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