This is a recipe that we were originally introduced to as a frozen food by my middle brother Al’s Morrocan friends when we lived in Paris in the late 90s. It was basically ‘viande et pommes (du terre)’, and sold in the frozen food section of Leaderprice in 1 kg bags. Despite the unassuming name, the tiny diced potatoes, which had similarly tiny chunks of meat, were deliciously spiced – we could identify pepper, but the rest was a mystery, only hinted at by the fact that the potatoes were yellow-orange in hue when cooked. You just had to pop them in the microwave or stir-fry to enjoy. It was very much a budget cheapie frozen food, as there was much more potato than there was meat!
Believe me, we could each eat one of those bags. It’s a miracle that we didn’t end up massively unhealthily obese then, but we also walked a lot back in those days. Also, teenagers, I suppose.
When we went back to the Philippines, we missed that dish, among many others. This was something not easily recreated though, as mutton was rare, though oddly enough given we could only ever find it as Rustan’s Supermarket, it wasn’t as expensive as beef (apparently it was not a popular meat and only kept in supply for foreigners.) We sighed and resigned ourselves to having it only as something we’d remember in our dreams and drool over in conversations.
Later on when I’d started cooking more frequently (and my mom would boast to her kumadres about it) my uncle, her youngest brother, wondered if I could recreate a dish he used to eat while he was working in the Middle East. It was a street food that had made it over there via Indian/Bangladeshi/Sri Lankan guest workers, and was, as he described it, ‘a leftovers dish’ – it was made with lamb that was left over from food stalls’ pre-cooked meats, heavily spiced to conceal the previous flavors and stir-fried with loooooooots of potatoes. Although he said that the meats were probably beef and lamb, I figured that it was likely more lamb than beef. The dish he described in appearance bore a resemblance to the ‘viande et pommes’ dish we used to eat, and I pressed him for any hints on spices. He said he sort of remembered garam marsala and tumeric being part of the ingredients. But at any rate, he was pretty sure I could figure it out, and could I make him some for Christmas/New Year?
I wish I could’ve seen my face when my Mom relayed that reply to me. If I were an anime character, I’d have had lots and lots of sweatdrops. Recreate a dish for him that I personally never tasted, off of a description? Talk about your tall orders! Still, my Mom asked … and I really couldn’t say no to the prospect of potentially being able to recreate the dish we kids wolfed down in batch lots back in the day.
It took some online research and guesswork, but the closest I could find was lamb and potatoes curry and a dry beef curry, from which I would base my memory’s recreation off of. I actually found a recipe that was very close, but have since lost the printout and I have NEVER been able to find the recipe since (so if anyone knows what the hell I’m talking about please leave a comment as to the dish’s name! It may be a variation of lamb keema though.)
It required a LOT of spices, which took some doing and it was only sheer luck that they had Garam Marsala in Santi’s. Sourcing mutton was far easier but harder to prepare, which was bony and I had to very carefully cut the meat off the bones from.
My brothers were drawn by the smell and were pressed into taste testing, until they approved of the flavour blend, and happily my uncle, when the dish was served, said it was exactly the dish that he was looking for! There was nothing left of the massive pan of food.
Hurray! Success! Except…
It was a very difficult dish to prepare, as I tried to also recreate the proportions of meat to lamb, and I probably had 2-4kg of potatoes I was trying to push around that pan on top of the maybe 1.5kg of meat, constantly stirring while I spiced and tasted and smelled and measured… it also took HOURS because stir-frying to doneness that many potatoes was not easy. The dish uses no water! My back and arms ached! So I did NOT make the dish since then, to my brothers’ disappointment. And I was so tired I forgot the proportions of spices.
Well, I tried to recreate the dish again today, reasoning that something that was a cheap dish was surely limited to more commonly used spice mixes and spices. Happily, my nose and tastebuds remember better than my active brain does…
The measurements used for this recipe are approximations. Ideally there should be about a ratio of meat to potato of about 1 to 4 or 1 to 5. Recreating the dish however, I only had about a 1 to 2 ratio of meat to potato. 1 to 3 is probably better. Microwaving the potatoes takes away SO MUCH of the work, but you still have to stir the dish quite a bit and will need a bamboo wood spatula. It may be possible to make this dish in smaller amounts but I’m not game to try (as I’m likely to eat a lot of this by myself…)