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Lamb curry shakes up a traditional Christmas dinner. It started with a stay in Nigeria

A family photo of Diane Richardson and her brother Gary Kirchherr. Later in life, when her brother visited at Christmastime, Richardson would make the lamb curry recipe their mother learned when the family lived in Nigeria.
Diane Richardson
/
Collage by NPR
A family photo of Diane Richardson and her brother Gary Kirchherr. Later in life, when her brother visited at Christmastime, Richardson would make the lamb curry recipe their mother learned when the family lived in Nigeria.

All Things We're Cooking is a series featuring family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We'll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.

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A turkey, ham or roast surrounded by side dishes might be what comes to mind when you think of a traditional Christmas dinner. But for more than 35 years and counting, Christmas dinner in Diane Richardson's house has been a large pot of lamb curry.

Richardson lives in Kirkwood, Mo., just outside St. Louis, but she grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., where her father was a geography professor. Her dad's job took the family to Nigeria for a year at a university, where they lived on the campus with many other visiting families in the early 1970s. It was here that Richardson's mother met a Lebanese woman who first made this dish and gave her mother the recipe.

The recipe became a family favorite, though they didn't have it too often given the then-limited availability of lamb and the cost of the meat, Richardson said.

"It was always a real treat when she would make the curry and always brought back memories of our time and our friends that we had while living in Nigeria," she said, adding that her mom kept in touch with many friends from their time abroad.

After her mom died in the early 1990s, Richardson became the one to make the curry.

"When my brother was single and I was married and he would come down for Christmas, I would make the curry because it was the only time he was able to get it," Richardson said.

From then on, it became a Christmas tradition that even the extended family looked forward to.

"My cousin and his wife and their two daughters have come over for decades and eaten it with us," Richardson said.

The daughters are in their 30s now, she said, but when they were younger, "They thought everybody had curry for Christmas."

Everyone usually starts their bowl with a scoop of rice and a scoop of curry before moving on to the toppings and customization. Citrus, coconut, raisins, pineapple, dried cranberries, peanuts, and sliced bananas and plantains are just a sampling of what goes well with the curry, Richardson said.

"All of a sudden you've got all these toppings and you've got this massive amount of food on your plate," Richardson said. "That's part of the fun, too."

The tradition continues today with Richardson and her three adult children, who have put their own twist on the curry, subbing in chicken or tofu for the lamb. The ease and adaptability of the dish are just some aspects of the curry that Richardson enjoys.

"I really like the uniqueness of it. I like the way it binds our family together because everybody likes it and they know the history behind it," she said. "So it's something that's really gotten passed on that's real special."

Lamb Curry

Recipe submitted by Diane Richardson
Kirkwood, Mo.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds lamb stew meat
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose white flour
  • 3 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 3/4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk (use whole milk or cream)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Optional toppings: banana, coconut, plantain, raisins, almonds, peanuts, tomatoes, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, avocado, onion, boiled eggs
  • Directions

    Place lamb in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high, stirring every minute until no longer pink — about 3 or 4 minutes. Drain and discard any liquid that accumulates. Set aside lamb.

    Melt the butter over low heat in a large saucepan. Saute onion with curry powder in melted butter until soft.

    Sprinkle flour, salt, sugar and ginger over onions. Cook over low heat, stirring until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat, stir in broth and milk. Return to heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Let boil for 1 minute, still stirring. Stir in lamb and lemon juice and cook until lamb is hot.

    Serve over rice. Place condiments in small bowls at the table or on a lazy Susan. Top the curry with small portions of your choice of condiments.

    Serve with banana, coconut, plantain, raisins, almonds, peanuts, tomatoes, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, avocado, onion and/or boiled eggs.

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