The food police have taken over in my office at the moment, and my guess is that yours isn’t much different: it’s January, and therefore nice food is Not Allowed. I am plotting the revolution as we speak. Come join me behind the barricades – there will be banana cake (with chocolate bits in! oh, the decadence), and these pies, and of course anything that you fancy bringing along. Be careful which friends you bring, though: no-one will be allowed to gaze covetously at any mid-morning snack while they tuck forlornly into their third Ryvita of the day – these people will be unceremoniously evicted from the brotherhood.
It perhaps does not reflect very well on me as a person that I am entirely intentionally bringing in pies for lunch, while what seems like the whole of the rest of the office munches their way through salad after salad. I could be worse, however – I suspect there are those among us who are actively pursuing the make-everyone-else-fat-so-I-look-thinner school of January dieting, otherwise known as bringing in all the spare Christmas chocolate biscuits for everyone else to eat.
What nobody except you and I needs to know, though, is that these are secretly very healthy pies – you see all those vegetables? Easily enough to cancel out the butter in the pastry, by my reckoning (although I do have a record of not really subjecting these hypotheses to proper scientific analysis. Please don’t do so on my behalf, though – ignorance is bliss, after all). In all seriousness, these are packed with good things: squash, spinach, lentils, chickpeas – the lamb is almost a secondary concern. They include more vegetables than meat, and more pulses than either – perfect for a January weekday lunch. If you want to up the filling-to-pastry ratio, just make the pies bigger, or make pasties instead, or serve this for dinner with rice and pickles. It’s delicious either way.
I made a slight miscalculation when shopping for these, and so the amount of meat you see above is only half what the recipe calls for. I (as usual) didn’t see this as much of a disaster: there’s enough going on in the pies that I didn’t really miss the extra lamb. John disagreed, though, so feel free to use as much or as little as your own tastes call for.
This is not a dish to start at 7pm on a Thursday (as we learned to our cost) – aside from the chopping, this requires very little effort, just a little babysitting, but it is a long, slow cook. It’s definitely worth the time, though – meltingly tender lamb, a rich tomato sauce, and the depth only achieved by cooking spices v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y for a couple of hours. Plus, of course, your house will smell delicious all afternoon. I second the recipe’s recommendation, of serving most of this as a curry on the day it’s made, and then making the rest into pies the day after – otherwise, this could become quite a daunting project, when it needn’t really be. (Especially if you make neat little pasties, instead of muffin-tin sized pies.)
The lamb is browned in a large pan, then onions, chilli and ginger – the base of any good curry – are added and fried gently until soft. Cinnamon, turmeric, chilli powder and ground coriander are stirred through, cooked for a minute, and then lentils and chickpeas are added, along with cardamom pods, cloves and a handful of curry leaves.
Tomato passata and a litre of water are then added, and the whole thing is left to bubble away gently on the stove for an hour and a quarter, while the house fills with the hearty, warming smell of spices. After the time’s up, butternut squash is chucked in and left for another half hour, then spinach, tomatoes and coriander are stirred through, followed by a squeeze of lime juice to perk the whole thing up.
The lamb curry is then left to cool, encased in shortcrust pastry (to which can be added nigella seeds, if you fancy), and baked into hand-sized pies. These can then be frozen, and taken out and packed into a lunchbox in the morning. If they’re small enough, they’ll defrost by lunchtime, and can then be eaten with all visible signs of enjoyment while your coworkers look on in envy.
A note: the oozing (below) may look very attractive, but turned out to be a significant source of distress when removing the pies from the tins. To save you sharing my pain, I would recommend trying not to overfill the cases – although it is worth factoring in a few disaster pies, to be quickly scoffed warm from the tin. Just maybe not all of them.
lamb dansak hand pies
Recipe adapted slightly from Pieminister‘s guru pies.
The recipe claims to serve 6, although what it is unclear on is that this actually serves 6 twice. The recipe recommends serving 2/3 of the quantity below as a curry, then making the rest into a pie the next day. Even so, this gave 4 servings as a meal, with enough left over to make 25 small pies, 6 large pies and a pasty. You may, therefore, wish to cut down on the quantities below – that is a lot of pie-making. Of course, we are now set up for lunches for the next month or so, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing…
For the lamb dansak:
600g diced lamb
2 onions, sliced
8cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 chillies, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1tsp ground turmeric
2tbsp ground coriander
1tsp chilli powder
250g red (or yellow) lentils
1x 400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 cardamom pods
small handful curry leaves
1x 500g carton tomato passata
Just over 1 litre water
approx. 200g squash (I used half a medium one)
300g spinach, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
handful coriander, chopped
juice of 2 limes
Heat the oil in a large casserole over a medium-high heat. Brown the lamb well all over, then add the onions, ginger and chillies. Reduce the heat and cook until the onions have softened, then stir through the cinnamon, turmeric, coriander and chilli powder until fragrant (about a minute).
Add the lentils and chickpeas, the cardamom, cloves and curry leaves, and the passata and water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for an hour and a quarter.
Add the squash, simmer for another 30 minutes, then stir in the spinach, chopped tomatoes and coriander. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add the lime juice and some more chilli if you’d like it hotter.
Serve with rice, and coriander to garnish, and leave the remainder to cool for the pies.
For the hand pies:
just over 1kg shortcrust pastry, made with 350g butter to 700g plain flour. Include 2tbsp nigella seeds when making, if you like. For pasties, or larger pies than you see above, I would start with 2/3 of this amount.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll out the pastry (probably not all of it at once, if you are making the full amount. I did this in 4 batches, but then I also used it as an opportunity to clear out all the odds and ends of pastry in the freezer) to around 3mm thick.
For an easy life, make pasties: cut circles around 20cm in diameter from the pastry, brush the edges with beaten egg and fill with a good dollop of the lamb mixture (you’ll get a feel for the right amount to use after the first couple). Fold in half, crimp the edges, poke a hole in the top and glaze with more beaten egg before baking for around 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
For more of a challenge, make tiny pies: generously grease a muffin tin with melted butter. (I despaired halfway through my pie marathon, and went for paper cases instead – they worked fine, as long as you don’t mind peeling bits of paper off hot pies. Greaseproof paper would probably be a better alternative.) Cut circles from your pastry which are the diameter of your muffin tin holes, plus twice their depth. I found a suitable sized cup, cut round that and rolled out any that looked a bit small. Also cut smaller circles for the tops of the pies.
Place the pastry circles into the muffin tin holes, pressing into the bottom corners and being careful not to tear them. Fill with the lamb mixture (do not overfill – not unless you like the escaping filling look, anyway), brush the top edges with beaten egg and top with the smaller circles. Crimp the edges with a fork, make a small hole in the top with a knife and glaze with more beaten egg. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
Now, you have a choice: the pies will come out of the tin more easily while still warm, but they will be more likely to collapse. Cold, they are more set into their new home, but more able to withstand being levered out. Of course, if yours didn’t ooze out of the top (mine did), they should just slide out easily, and this is all academic.