Lamb Korma

Make this slow cooked Afghan-style lamb korma with fresh leg of lamb in a brothy, richly spiced stew that will send you on an adventure of flavor.

Lamb Korma
Elise Bauer

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
Elise Bauer

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.

What is Lamb Korma?

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.

Lamb Korma
Elise Bauer

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.

Why Grind Whole Spices?

Because their flavor is so much more intense, freshly ground spices are almost always preferred when cooking. But let's face it, not everyone has a grinder, or the time to run to the store for five green cardamom pods. If you find you don't have some of them when you go to cook the lamb korma, we've included the amount of each ground spice to use.

And, keep in mind that the spices in this recipe are savory ones, ones that bring some warmth but not heat. Don't go looking for hot spices in this Afghan lamb stew.

How to Thicken Korma Sauce

As written, this is a brothy stew. But, if you'd like a thicker sauce, try these suggestions.

  • Cook the stew uncovered so more of the liquid evaporates.
  • Make sure you use full fat yogurt.
  • Add a few peeled and cut-up potatoes to the stew during its last half hour of cooking.

Lamb Korma in a Slow Cooker

This recipe easily adapts to a slow cooker. Follow Steps 1 through 3 on the stovetop and transfer what you've cooked so far into the slow cooker. Continue to add the ingredients in Steps 4 and 5 to the slow cooker, and cook on low (or simmer if your slow cooker has that setting) for about 6 hours.

To Brown or Not to Brown the Lamb

This recipe comes from Najaf Mazari, a refugee from Afghanistan living in Australia. He says to not brown the lamb, and we defer to his knowledge of his native cuisine.

However, that doesn't mean that you can't brown the lamb if you want. To do so, add olive oil to a hot skillet. Then add the chunks of lamb, eventually turning so it can brown all sides. Don't crowd the pan or you'll steam the meat instead of browning it. Brown the chunks in batches, if necessary.

Freezing and Reheating Lamb Korma

If you know you'll be making this and freezing it, consider leaving the yogurt out and adding it when you reheat it. That way, you won't risk the yogurt separating during reheating.

If you want to freeze leftovers, store them in a freezer safe container or zip top bag. While reheating on the stovetop, do it slowly and stirring frequently, diminishing the risk of separation.

What to Serve With Lamb Korma

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Lamb Korma

Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 3 hrs
Servings 6 to 8 servings

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

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.


  • 8 whole cloves (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves)

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (or 4 teaspoons ground pepper)

  • 5 green cardamom pods (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)

  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (or 3 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander)

  • 1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds (1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin)

  • 5 tablespoons light sesame oil or canola oil

  • 3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1 heaping tablespoon grated ginger

  • 2 teaspoons turmeric

  • 1 heaping teaspoon paprika

  • 1 stick cinnamon, ground, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 4 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks, or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, quartered

  • 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)

  • Kosher salt


  1. Grind and crush the spices:

    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.

    Elise Bauer
  2. Cook the onions, add spices:

    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.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  3. Add the tomatoes:

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

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  4. Add the lamb:

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

    Elise Bauer
  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.

    Elise Bauer
  6. Serve:

    Serve the korma with basmati rice and/or flatbread.

    Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
404 Calories
20g Fat
12g Carbs
43g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 404
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20g 26%
Saturated Fat 5g 27%
Cholesterol 129mg 43%
Sodium 247mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 12g 4%
Dietary Fiber 3g 9%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 43g
Vitamin C 15mg 75%
Calcium 130mg 10%
Iron 5mg 26%
Potassium 990mg 21%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.