AS early sea-faring explorers discovered new continents in the 1400s, the lucrative spice trade developed on a worldwide scale. This had a profound and lasting effect upon political and cultural development, particularly in Britain. Few Scots may realise that their love of spicy food and curry extends from as far back as the 1700s. Indeed, curry powder from India was being advertised and sold in an Edinburgh grocer’s shop in 1798 and in my 1828 edition of Meg Dods’s Cook And Housewife’s Manual, she recommends the following: “Instead of using currie-powder as obtained in shops, we would advise every cook to keep the several ingredients, each good of its kind, in well-stopped vials, and to mix them when wanted, suiting the quantities of the various ingredients to the nature of the dish.”

HeraldScotland: Shirley Spear's rabbit curry

Scots have loved spiced food for centuries and many will celebrate National Curry Week, which begins tomorrow (October 9), with a favourite recipe at home, or a visit to their favourite restaurant. Some would say a “Glasgae curry” is as punchy as a “Glasgae Kiss” and there are certainly some fantastic restaurants, of many origins, to try in the city.

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Meg Dods' instructions were brief, but I have attempted to replicate her recipe for Scots Rabbit Curry here.

I am not experienced in cooking curries and so I hope Sumayya approves of my attempt to create this dish. Rabbit is a delicious ingredient and greatly underrated. It is also widely available – the curse of many gardeners and farmers – and inexpensive. In my childhood, rabbit was frequently seen hanging up in the butcher’s shop, but now it can be difficult to find for sale. A good butcher or game dealer will get it for you, but alternatively, you can buy good-quality chicken portions for this recipe.

Garam masala is produced by all the commercial spice-makers and widely available, but I decided to have a go at making my own, as Meg Dods suggested. This was a worthwhile exercise, as my family loved this dish and I hope you do too.

Scots rabbit curry

(Serves 4-6)

Meat from 3 wild rabbits, jointed (ask your butcher to do this)

2 tbsp sieved plain white flour seasoned lightly with salt and pepper

6 rashers unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into small pieces

3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced

1 small bulb fresh fennel, washed and chopped into small pieces

Finely grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons, plus 2 tbsp squeezed lemon juice

12 button onions, peeled and kept whole

6 fat cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 thumb-sized piece root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

500ml light chicken or vegetable stock

Approximately 8 tbsp oil (rapeseed, groundnut or coconut)

1½ tbsp garam masala

½ tsp ground turmeric

125ml fresh double cream

Extra ground sea salt for final seasoning if required


1. Coat the rabbit pieces in seasoned flour and set aside.

2. Peel the onions, cut in half and, with the cut side facing down, slice in thin, half-moon slices from right to left.

3. Place the chopped garlic and root ginger in a small blender or grinder with two tablespoons of water and whizz to a paste.

4. Take a heavy-based saucepan and heat three tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic and ginger paste,then the spices and stir quickly for 1 minute. Add the sliced onions and turn until well coated in this mixture. Add the chopped fennel and lemon zest and stir again. Continue cooking over a low heat, until all is soft and succulent. Stir from time-to-time taking care not to allow the mixture to stick to the base of the saucepan.

5. While the onions, fennel and spices are cooking, brown the floured rabbit pieces in a frying pan in batches, using around four tablespoons of oil, adding more if required. Once complete, add one more spoonful of oil and toss the chopped bacon and button onions in it before returning all the browned rabbit pieces to the frying pan.

6. Pour over the prepared, hot stock and allow to reach boiling point. Simmer for 2 minutes and then turn off the heat. Transfer this mixture into the onions in the large saucepan and stir well. Bring the temperature to boiling point, cover with a lid then turn down heat to allow the meat to simmer slowly in the sauce for at least an hour, until very tender.

7. Add the lemon juice and check for seasoning. You may need a little more salt. Stir again.

8. Finally, add the double cream and stir into the curry. Allow to cook for a few more minutes to thicken slightly, but take care not to let it split.

9. By the time the meat is thoroughly cooked, it will be falling off the bone. If you prefer, remove all the bones before spooning the whole curry into a hot dish for serving with fragrant basmati rice.

For the fragrant rice

(Serves 4)

225g basmati rice

1 small onion, finely chopped

25g unsalted butter, plus 25g for serving

½ tsp salt

2 cardamom pods, cracked

4 whole cloves

½ cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

2 tbsp lemon juice plus enough water, or light vegetable or chicken stock, to make up 275ml liquid in total


1. Place the rice in a sieve and, while mixing it around with your fingers, run under cold running water until the water is running clear. Set aside to drain.

2. Peel and chop onion into small pieces.

3. Melt butter in a saucepan and add chopped onion. Stir in the butter and cook gently until the onion is soft and translucent.

4. Add the strained rice and stir well. Cook gently in the hot butter until beginning to colour.

5. Add the salt, spices and bay leaf. Pour in the hot water or stock mixed with the lemon juice and bring to boil. Turn down heat, cover with a sheet of aluminium foil, plus a well-fitting lid pressed down on top and simmer for 10 minutes.

6. After 10 minutes, turn off heat completely, but DO NOT remove the lid or foil. Leave covered and undisturbed for a further 15 minutes. The rice will absorb all the liquid and be ready to serve after this time.

7. To serve, add 25g butter and fluff up the rice with a fork. Transfer to a warm serving dish and garnish with a fresh bay leaf, or the other half of the cinnamon stick, as illustrated.

To make your own garam masala

1 tbsp cardamom seed (if you can't buy the seed, split enough cardamom pods and remove the black seeds yourself)

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp whole cloves

1/3 of a whole nutmeg (bash a nutmeg with a rolling pin to obtain a piece approximately the correct size)

½ cinnamon stick (approximately 7cm) broken into smaller pieces


1. Place all ingredients into an electric grinder or coffee grinder and whizz until very fine. I finished mine by hand using a mortar and pestle. Any mixture not used for the recipe, can be stored successfully in a screw-topped jar, or similar, for up to three weeks.

Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye