What is Halal, you ask. Halal is food permissible to eat in Islam; Haram is the opposite. Muslims may not eat food that is not Halal, much as Jews who “keep kosher” must follow the laws of their religion. The main mandates include how animals are slaughtered for meat (cutting the throat humanely by ritual); no carrion, blood or flesh of swine; no intoxicating substances. Halal has some basis in preventative medicine: carrion, due to decay; blood, which carries bacteria and may cause infection; pork, as a vector for trichinosis; alcohol and drugs, because of their effects on the nervous system.
When you go to a Halal restaurant, like Curry Kebob House in Patchogue, you might see goat, camel and rabbit on the menu, but you will not see blood sausage or sweetbreads. One of my favorite goat dishes is achar gosht, made with pickle spices, ginger and green chilis. I love spicy food, so the Pakistani recipes, like chicken karahi and any of the vindaloos are especially appealing. There are plenty of familiar khusoosi and tandoori (clay oven) samplings for those who prefer less heat. Other dishes include: rhogan josh, lamb or goat in an aromatic garlic sauce; kebabs; shrimp dopiazza, in a buttery, creamy tomato sauce, with onions; terrific starters stressing unusual spice combinations, unique in themselves; wonderful breads from simple skillet chapatti to potato, onion and garlic stuffed inside multi-layered wheat bread, then baked in the tandoori; and vegetable, grain, and rice dishes, imaginative and lusty, to satisfy the fussiest vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. Basmati rice goes with everything.
I could make a meal on the starters and desserts. I’m crazy about samosa, those crispy triangles filled with green peas and potatoes or minced chicken. Give me the potato or chickpea bites with yoghurt and tamarind sauce.
I have to take dessert home because I have no room left in my aching tummy. My guest, last Saturday, forced herself to eat the aromatic basmati rice pudding; she won’t leave the restaurant without it. Honey balls and the incredible vermicelli pudding could handle the trip home for later, but not the falooda ice cream: homemade kulfi dipped in milk, rose water, basil seeds and vermicelli. Both the vermicelli and rice puddings are so rich, cooked in milk, rose water, saffron and butter, garnished with almonds, pistachios and coconut, next time I’m there I’m having dessert first! This special Pakistani dessert, usually made on Saturdays and special days, has shot to the top of my list of “foods I can’t live without.”
All of these dishes are on the main menu, but several are on the Tuesday lunch or Saturday and Sunday dinner buffets. I accompany everything with salted lassis, that refreshing and extraordinary pureed mango and yoghurt drink that requires “Another, please!”
Curry Kebob House, at 585 Medford Ave. in Patchogue, is owned by business partners Seema, who is Pakistani and Sameer, who is from Northern India. The bill of fare reflects both regions. Seema, tall, elegant and self-contained, runs the front of the house, while sturdy, smiling Sameer cooks. There are enough waiters to maintain expert, steady, well-organized service. Mixed complexions and murmurs in unfamiliar languages indicate that Sameer’s menu has an international following. It helps that the food is moderately priced, but more important, it’s meticulously prepared. The restaurant also offers takeout and catering. Their website is thoughtful and detailed, CurryKebobHouse.com
RECIPE: Mango Lassi is my favorite non-alcoholic fruit drink, though you can add a tot of rum, vodka, gin, or whatever floats your boat, especially as a party punch. I’ve had it buzzed with milk in a blender at a Colombian fruit bar; with water, lemon juice and honey; with sugar and/or salt; thick and thin. The usual lassi is made with ripe fresh mango, a dash of lemon juice, water, a quarter-cup of plain yoghurt, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of cardamom or saffron, blended with ice, like a smoothie. I’ve made them that way if I’m feeling ambitious. Otherwise, I whisk (with a fork) a huge dollop of unflavored yoghurt—adjust to your taste—into a 12-ounce glass of thick mango nectar (I like Goya brand) with a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground cardamom, until there are no lumps. It’s the ideal drink on a hot day.