Our first flat in London was in Spitalfields, a short walk from Brick Lane.
Ten years ago, Brick Lane was the land of arty hipsters, a few of the last fabric scrap merchants, endless Boxfresh sample sale pop-ups, old train bridges, smelly shops under the train bridges, authentic bagels and salt beef, and many, many Indian restaurants.
Each restaurant would send a man or two outside to convince you the best curry in London was to be had inside this particular place (or the cheapest pint of Cobra, depending on how much of a drunkard you looked I suppose). Multiply this by 20 restaurants in a three-block stretch, and you can see why some people found this overwhelming. Personally, after spending time in Jamaica, I just found it kind of sweet. I mean, no one is locking your luggage in the trunk of their car, what’s there to complain about?
So once we settled into our flat, my husband and I decided to just say yes to the first tout who approached us and see how the food was. Lo and behold, a nice young man in a purple dress shirt came up to us about a block away from Brick Lane. Twenty seconds into his schpiel we said sure, and he looked like he wasn’t sure what to do next. I’m not sure how many people actually agreed to come along. And as he led us past Brick Lane, I admit I had a moment of doubt – did we just agree to be stripped of all our belongings in the narrow streets back here?
But no, he led us to the door of Cafe Raj, which would be our curry place of choice for the next four years, and where we headed every Friday after work. We became such regulars that the staff started inviting us to weddings, discussing immigration paperwork, and offering up sublets of various flats around East London.
So, when I made these lamb burgers a few years later, then living in West London, I had a moment of missing my bonkers Spitalfields neighbourhood. And if you happen to be in London, I wouldn’t bother checking out our old local, as it were, as it’s changed hands now – but for an incredible curry head to Tayyabs, also in East London, down in Whitechapel.
I’ve suggested here to use a curry sauce from delicious magazine, and it’s well worth having in your freezer. It will have much less sodium than any jarred version, and taste much fresher. One batch will make several meals.
Balti lamb burgers with quick cucumber raita
Makes about 5 burgers
For the burgers
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 quantity basic curry sauce, defrosted
1 tsp garam masala (a balti one if you can find it)
500g good quality lamb mince
Canola or groundnut oil
For the cucumber raita
(These quantities are approximate, taste as you go)
plain Greek yoghurt
Pita breads and halved cherry tomatoes to serve
1. Add the onions, garlic, curry sauce and garam masala balti into a bowl and mix it with your hands until it’s well combined. Form into 5 burgers and leave on a plate to settle down. Put a grill pan on high heat, or alternatively heat up the barbecue.
2. Chop the cucumber into small chunks and add to the plain yoghurt in another bowl. Dry fry the cumin seeds until they smell fragrant, tossing them often. Add cumin seeds to the yoghurt and cucumber.
3. Pour some groundnut oil into your palm and massage the burgers gently. Brush them if you’re squeamish about this kind of thing. Put them on the grill pan and leave them alone for a good 4 minutes. Flip once, leave them for another 3-4 minutes. Cooking time depends on the thickness of your burgers, so adjust as necessary.
4. Take the burgers off the heat and let them rest for a couple minutes, and use the flaming hot grill pan to heat up the pitta breads, push them down on the pan.
Serve with a pita per burger, with cherry tomatoes and the cucumber raita alongside.