Lamb Korma

Are you a lover of books? My father, the English teacher, instilled in us an appreciation for literature. When I find a book I love I want to yell about it from the mountain top. Instead, my friends are the beneficiaries of this enthusiasm, since I typically find every excuse to send them a copy of the new favorite. Last year the book my friends received was The Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens van der Post. This year it will be The Honey Thief, a beautifully written collection of fictional stories by Najaf Mazari, a Hazara Afghani refugee living in Australia, and his collaborator, novelist Robert Hillman.

the-honey-thief

In The Honey Thief, the authors carry us along, weaving one story into another, like a tapestry, rich in humor and humanity, of a world so different from ours—the Afghanistan we don’t see in the news. At the very end of the book there is a small collection of recipes, told as if you were right there in Mazari’s kitchen. Here’s an excerpt from the lamb qorma recipe:

Okay, the onions. In Afghanistan, we rarely fashion a meal without onions. What the world was like before onions were invented, I cannot imagine. So, the onions, three of them. Peel them to preserve as much of the outer flesh as possible….Once the onions are peeled, chop them up but not too fine. You need chunks of onion, not thin slices. Now heat some cooking oil in a big saucepan. I am serious when I say a big saucepan. For dishes like this, a big saucepan is your friend. Do you want to fill a smaller saucepan to the very brim? No.

and later,

This is going to take two hours. Read a book. Every fifteen minutes, put the book down and stir the saucepan. In this last hour, you are stirring the qorma, and you are reading your book. You started at two-thirty in the afternoon. Now it’s five in the afternoon. Turn off the qorma. If you are of my faith, wash and pray. If you are not, do whatever you must.

All of the recipes read like that, many with rough approximations of the amounts. For the following lamb korma (or qorma) recipe, we’ve stripped the recipe down to its essentials, making it easier to follow, but not nearly as entertaining as the original. I do recommend getting a copy of this book just for the pleasure of reading it. Mazari instructs us to serve his qorma with basmati rice. We didn’t have any rice so we served it with flatbread on the side instead. The stew is tangy and spicy and would be great with rice to sop up the extra liquid.

 

Lamb Korma Recipe

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

Use only full fat plain yogurt for this recipe. Low fat or non-fat may separate.

Ingredients

  • 8 cloves
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 5 Tbsp of light sesame oil or canola oil
  • 3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 heaping Tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 heaping teaspoon paprika
  • 1 stick of cinnamon, ground, or 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 4 very big, very ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks OR 1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, cut in quarters
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/3 cups full fat plain yogurt (can use Greek style)
  • Salt

Method

lamb-korma-1

1 Using a mortar and pestle, grind the cloves until fine. Add the peppercorns and grind them roughly. Add the cardamom pods and crush them with the cloves and peppercorns.

lamb-korma-2 lamb-korma-3

2 Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large, thick-bottomed pot with a lid. Add the chopped onions and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric to the onions, and stir to coat. Add the cumin, coriander, paprika and cinnamon. Stir in the ground cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns. Add the crushed garlic and the grated ginger. Cook for 2 minutes.

lamb-korma-4 lamb-korma-5

3 Add the tomatoes (with their juices) to the pot and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 4 minutes.

lamb-korma-6

4 Add the lamb pieces to the pot, stir to coat with the spices, onions and tomatoes, and let cook for 4 minutes.

lamb-korma-7 lamb-korma-8

5 Stir in the water and yogurt and mix well. Add salt to taste. Cover the pot, bring to a simmer and reduce heat to a very low simmer. Cook very gently for 2 hours or more, stirring every 15 minutes or so. The stew should cook at a bare simmer until the lamb is very tender. Serve with basmati rice and/or flatbread.

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Recipe adapted from The Honey Thief, a book of fiction, stories from Afghanistan, by Najaf Masari and Robert Hillman. Presented here with the permission of the publisher.

Links:

Indian Vegetarian Korma, from 101 Cookbooks

Chicken Korma, from eCurry

Kabul Style Lamb Rice Pilaf, from Cast Sugar

Lamb Korma on Simply Recipes

45 Comments

  1. Lisa

    This looks fantastic! I love lamb and rarely prepare it at home. The flavors in this recipe sound heavenly. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Danielle

    Oh, I can’t wait to make this. The only lamb I have at the moment is ground lamb, but I definitely am putting it on the grocery list for next month.

  3. Julie

    Oh, my… That looks and sounds absolutely wonderful! And so does the recipe! Adding that book to my must read list!

  4. Tom Hammer

    Oh, rockin’! Thank you for posting…love lamb, love curries and kormas and this looks good. I love that this is a “grind your own spices” and not “add curry powder” recipe. Using fresh spices and letting their oils bloom while cooking the onions in oil/fat makes all the difference in a rich, tasty sauce. What a wonderful reminder that Afghanistan is a cradle of civilization, not just a land under the grip of violent, ideological struggle. Beautiful people, beautiful food.

  5. Michaela @ serifandspice.wordpress.com

    Looks delicious and now I’m craving something with those flavors. Conveniently, I also just bought some cardamon pods. I foresee this dish in my future very soon. I don’t know if I’m reading the recipe or not, but I do not see the step of where you add the cardamon pods. Is it ground with the other whole spices and added at that time?

    • Elise

      Hi Michaela, oops, I wrote the part about the spices incorrectly, it’s been corrected now, thank you!

  6. Mani

    This looks beautiful. I make lamb almost the same way, I just cook it in pressure cooker, takes around 20 minutes of pressure to have perfectly soft lamb. Saves a whole lot of time too.

  7. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com

    I usually make chicken korma and now I’m craving for this lamb one instead. Thanks for a delish recipe, Elise!

    ps: Can’t wait to meet again at FBF :)

  8. Denise Browning@From Brazil To You

    Elise: This korma looks terrific!!! When I lived in Northern California several years ago, I learned to appreciate Indian food so much that it became comfort food. I am looking forward to digging in in a bowl of goodness such this one.

  9. ben

    The ginger-and-garlic combination and the way of treating the spices I learned from Madhur Jaffrey’s books, this is very much in her spirit.

  10. Yasmin

    Elise, pardon me for being critical but your sauce doesn’t look right, and I think it’s because you cooked it for too long.

    My suggestion is to brown the onion, and then add the lamb, and then immediately add the spices and garlic, and then immediately stir to coat the meat. Then cook the lamb slowly until it is tender (you may want to add meat tenderiser to this stage if it is too tough). This may take a while but it’s worth it, believe me.

    Once the lamb is tender, THEN you add the tomatoes, because adding the tomatoes before the lamb is tender will cause the lamb to toughen up and then you will wind up in a situation where your sauce has gone funny because you had to cook the lamb for hours to get it soft again.

    Once the tomatoes are mostly dissolved, add the water and yogurt and then let it simmer until the oil begins to come up to the top of the sauce, which is the maximum amount of time you should cook any grave-based Indian dish, especially korma or curry. Adjust the salt and spices and you are done.

    Source: My mother in law, who has the equivalent of a PhD when it comes to cooking Indian food.

    • Michael

      Hi Yasmin, that is great advice. I just cooked an amazing chili from scratch (same concept as here; toasted cumin/coriander/dried chil, crushed) with bone-in-lamb and slow-cooked for hours. The chili tasted AMAZING at one point but the lamb was not tender, I cooked until it fell off the bone, but the flavor never recovered. I’m going to try that recipe and this the same way. Thanks and thanks to your mother in law!

  11. Quick question

    Hi, Elise –

    Would you also recommend browning the lamb in oil, as one might do with beef in a chili?

    • Elise

      Great question. Once I made a veal stew of my father’s, his recipe didn’t call for browning the meat but I thought it was a good idea and went ahead and browned it. The result was dry! Not at all what it should have been. When I made it again without browning, it was perfect. Lamb is tender like veal. It doesn’t need to be browned in this stew and there is plenty of flavor from the spices.

  12. Monika

    Hi Elise,
    I am a long time reader, first time commenter – a fellow food lover from Bulgaria. I enjoy your site and recipes greatly and am very appreciative of the “tips and tricks” section that I go back to very often.

    But ironically, this first comment is not about the food. I’d like to thank you for the book recommendation. It sounds so interesting and the quotes are very persuasive – it will be the next book I read.

    Wishing you the very best,
    Monika

  13. Interiorally

    Thanks so much for this – the lamb korma we have in the UK is far too sweet, and no doubt not even close to the original. I’ll give this one a go.

  14. Shahida

    The recipe may taste very nice but sorry to say that you do not add Turmeric and Tomatoes to Kormas. This is not authentic Korma but a recipe from Western takeaway!!

    • Elise

      Hello Shahida, if you read the intro you would see that this recipe comes from Afghanistan. Perhaps the author makes his korma differently than you do.

  15. Judith

    I’m going to be a food history nerd for a moment here. If this is an ancient Afghani recipe, the tomatoes must be a new addition. Tomatoes were originally from the Americas and were not introduced to the rest of the world until after the Spanish conquest.

    • Elise

      Hi Judith, I don’t think anyone is claiming that this recipe is an ancient Afghani recipe. Nor would I claim that a tomato-based pasta sauce was an ancient Italian recipe, or anything with chilies in it an ancient Indian recipe. Potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, are all new world foods, and they’ve become an essential part of many cuisines around the world.

  16. Amy

    Hi Elise! This looks wonderful!

    I was wondering – if I use ground cardamom how much would I use? I just bought a big batch of ground cardamom and tumeric and I am dying to use them. :) Thanks for all the great recipes over the years.

    • Elise

      Great question Amy. Cardamom has a strong and distinctive taste. You may want to just start with a half teaspoon of ground cardamom (or less) and experiment, add more if you like.

  17. george

    Looks wonderful could
    this recipe work with beef

  18. Maria

    Love the recipe, will try this with chicken since I rarely cook lamb. Thanks for the book tips, sounds like a great read! I especially love how author instructs you to read a book while you wait for dish to finish, nice way to spend an afternoon.

  19. Anna

    Is that your rug that the book is sitting on? It is beautiful! And, as usual, thank you for making me hungry. :)

  20. Marta @ What should I eat for breakfast today

    I like a good book and I like to share it as well. The same with a good recipe. Thank you for sharing this one :)

  21. Donna Schilling

    On the Lamb Korma…I have a question please.
    Do you use the entire cardamom pod, outer shell/covering and all?
    I always thought it was like a brittle woody covering that would not ‘break down’ but rather end up like hard straw in a dish. I have always opened the pods, taken out the little seeds and thrown the shell away.
    OH LORD, have I been wasting my time all these years?!?
    Do they cook up tender after a bit of time, say an hour?
    I have other dishes where cardamom pods are required, so I would love to know.

    Also, I can’t eat lamb. Is there a protein substitute.
    Many Thanks!

    • Elise

      Some recipes call for just the cardamom seeds, some for the whole pods. When a recipe calls for the whole pod, then use the whole pod. I grind the whole pod in a mortar and pestle until it’s pretty well broken up. I think if you were baking with cardamom, you would only want the seeds, because the pods would end up a little tough. But in this case, the stew cooks for at least 2 hours, in liquid, and you’ve already crushed and ground the pods.

      As for protein substitutes, both chicken and beef have been recommended.

      • Donna Schilling

        Thank You!
        I have been wasting so much time!…lol

  22. Virginia

    Wish you were my friend. I’d love to have somebody audition books for me. (Well, I guess you just did that.) Your recipe looks wonderful. I have easy access to ground lamb, so I think I’ll make meatballs and use those. Maybe I’ll even try beef if there is no lamb around. I find all the comments quite enriching as well.

  23. Paula

    Can I use pork to make this?

  24. Soma

    First, thanks for mentioning the book. sounds intriguing and I want to read it, esp. the way it describes the recipe.

    I was reading the comments above. All I can say is the term “Korma/Quorma” is translated in diff. ways in different regions of the subcontinent. Even in India, different states make korma in different ways. The recipe of Korma from the northern regions of India is very different from that in the south. So there is no one single “traditional” recipe. This looks fantastic and if I had to do it, I would use goat meat :) as I do not like the gamey flavor of lamb.

    Thanks for adding the link to my post Elise. Much appreciate it.

  25. Jim Gauntt

    I love the comments (even those of critique) and especially the last one. This one makes it very clear that all recipes are local. One man’s korma is another woman’s qorma and how one arrives at the “best” is a matter of whose taste buds and history are judging. Rarely do we make a recipe as suggested. Rather we use our local flavor needs and knowledge to enjoy the process and then, ultimately, the food.

  26. Kaye

    Made this today. Big hit with the family. Just enough spice to add a warmth to the mouth. Made it just like the recipe said. Will make it again for friends and family when they visit.

  27. Fritz

    Great post, just had to make it immediately. I used all spices as specified, but instead of using stove top, I tossed all into slow cooker as inspired by recent Slow Cooker Mexican Pulled Pork recipe (thanks for that one as well!) for 6 hours with “simmer” setting. I was a bit doubtful about cooking something in dairy product for such a long time, but it came out great.

  28. Jamie

    Well I didn’t make the recipe (yet) but I went straight to the library and checked out the book, and loved it! Then I went to the internet and bought the book so I could have the recipes on my cookbook shelf. Najaf Masari is a wonderful storyteller and recipe-teller. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  29. Jim Gauntt

    So I made this and loved the scents of the spices working. Ran into a little problem when I taste tested near the end. It was not very flavorful and very sour. Should have tasted the yogurt before adding it. The brand I bought was quite sour (not bad just a sour taste) and the result in the sauce was “inedible sour”. Added more cinnamon, a lot, added more cardamom and coriander, then added sweeteners; first a little sugar. When that did not touch it, we went for the big guns and added some molasses to balance the sour. There was no “molasses” flavor, but it took that extra sweetener to make this work because I did not taste the yogurt brand I bought.

    In addition to knowing your yogurt and buying something that is balanced in taste, I would also suggest blending your water and yogurt together and not adding it when the mixture is too hot (lower than boiling/simmering) which could lead to separation of the yogurt even if full fat. Warming the yogurt with the room temp water should help.

    Also watch how much turmeric you add as it can wreak havoc with your taste buds if too much and you are not used to it as a primary spice

  30. Tony

    Very nice I have to try it..:)

  31. Jason

    This recipe is excellent. I reduced the water a little, added a can of coconut milk instead of yogurt and cooked it in a slow cooker overnight. It was absolutely delicious.

  32. Michael

    This looks good enough to replace my monthly chili adventure. One thing I might change since it works so well on the chili is to toast at least least the cumin and coriander in a pan and then pass those through a pepper grinder. Makes for wonderfully intense and smoky flavors.

  33. Michael

    Hi Yasmin, that is great advice. I just cooked an amazing chili from scratch (same concept as here; toasted cumin/coriander/dried chil, crushed) with bone-in-lamb and slow-cooked for hours. The chili tasted AMAZING at one point but the lamb was not tender, I cooked until it fell off the bone, but the flavor never recovered. I’m going to try that recipe and this the same way. Thanks and thanks to your mother in law!

  34. Said

    I naturally am a lamb korma person, the number one dish for me in any authentic Indian restaurant. And I avoid making it for myself because I worry I’d mess it up. I tried this recipe out and the flavors are all there, yumm, my first attempt to cook any Indian dish ever. The only thing is that the consistency is not the same as what I am used to, but I guess it is to do with the amount of water added? I followed all the measurements as recommended though.

  35. Rachel

    Hi Elise, quick question – do you think it could be frozen, or would the yoghurt not survive?
    Thanks so much for this – and many other – recipes!

    • Elise

      Hi Rachel, great question! I don’t know the answer. I haven’t tried freezing this recipe. But if you do, please let us know how it turns out for you.

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