Know your onions

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1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 bay leaves
11/2 teaspoons coarse salt
21/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (or 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes)
½ cup water
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, including liquid
3 tablespoons cashew butter (recipe follows)
About 2 cups cooked rice

For garnish:
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 green chili, chopped
Roasted cashews (recipe below)

Brown-fry: Heat oil in a large, heavy pot set over medium-high heat. Add onions. Cook, stirring regularly, until caramel brown, about 25 minutes.

Brown:
Meanwhile, in a wide skillet, cook lamb over medium-high heat, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 12 minutes. Drain in a colander. Set aside.

Season:
Add garlic and ginger to the onions, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add garam masala, coriander, turmeric, red pepper, bay leaves and salt; stir 1 minute.

Thicken:
Add fresh tomatoes. If using canned, run tomatoes and their juices through the food processor first. Add browned lamb, chickpeas (and their liquid) and cashew butter. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until thick (like chili), about 45 minutes. Stir often.

Serve:
Add more salt and ground red pepper if need be. Heap rice onto one side of a serving bowl, lamb stew on the other. Garnish. Enjoy.

Provenance:
Adapted from Julie Sahni's "Classic Indian Cooking," by way of my friend Elizabeth.

Roasted cashews and cashew butter:
Measure 2/3 cup cashews into a small cast-iron pan. Add 1 teaspoon butter, 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Slide pan into a 400-degree oven and roast, shaking now and then, until deep brown and crisp all the way through, about 11 minutes. Set aside half the roasted nuts for garnish. Run the rest through the food processor or blender until mixture resembles smooth peanut butter.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.
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