Lamb Curry


Load up on Mrs Balls chutney you’re going to need it for the ride !

I’ve just finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and this curry is just that “Big Magic” from me to you. I have permission to be here. I belong here and I have a right to my story. Here’s what went on in my head to get me to this recipe. Of course you can skip it and

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If you do though, you take away your right to judge or make any comments about my version of lamb curry. 

Lamb Curry

Curry has many spices but it is generally accepted that there are a few that make up the spine of a good curry. There are however a few spices that I’d never heard of, like asafoetida. Asafoetida say it! Can you feel it as it dances across your tongue when you  do.  I was intrigued, I’d never heard of it. Reading through various sites trying to understand curries, all I was trying to recreate was a memory of my best curry.  I wanted that flavour. I’d been let down like a pimpled teenager on her first date at a disco so many times before. My expectations were high, anticipation was on a knife edge and then all too often disappointment showed up stealing the show. There was a promise of the best curry flavours only to be served up in an oily, soupy, slop lacking in lamb and swimming in oil.   

in search of a memory

My best curry memories are in Durban. Many with Lynne and Kevin, but one memorable one at the Dutch East India restaurant in the early 90’s before we were all married. It’s long since closed down with countless other Indian restaurants skidding in to replace it. There was also a brilliant lamb curry served at one of the restaurants in the Maharani Hotel also in Durban. And then there was a very interesting place located under a flyway of a highway. In the late 80’s if you visited Durban, you had to have curry at this place. The curry here nearly took the hair off my tongue, it was so hot. We soon learnt that we needed to ask for mild in Durban. Brian and I were doing a scuba diving course and our diving instructor, Glen, who was dating my school friend Clare-Ann back then , took us to explore Aliwal Shoal. We had a great time diving Umkomaas and the South Coast of Durban.

The best place to go in search of my memory would be India. There are over 2800 registered political parties in that country, how would I know where to even begin to find the curry I was looking for, I couldn’t even remember the name of it. Sanjay Thumma, also known as Vah Chef on YouTube to his 2.48 million subscribers, a celebrity chef in India, gave me a few tips and tricks about tempering spices, which definitely added the right depth of flavour to my curries. He has such a vibrant and infectious personality, I liked him instantly! 

 Closer to home, Durban is reputed to be the only city in the world with a larger population of Indians outside of India. “The title for largest Indian city out of India is held by Durban in South Africa.”

Crush magazine gave me a great starting point to understanding different types of curry.  I was looking for a meaty lamb curry, not too spicy rather more aromatic , where I could dial up my preference of heat by adding chilli to my taste. It must not be creamy nor nutty like in a korma nor dry like a bhuna or bindi gosht. I was starting to feel like Goldilocks, it needed to be just right. I wanted it to be authentic too, but was handicapped by not being able to search in any other language but English. India has 22 official languages with 120 unofficial ones and in excess of 270 mother tongues. I’ve never visited India to be able to experience this amazing cuisine at it’s authentic birth place.  India has now eclipsed China in population with over 1.3 billion people. My other sensitivity was respecting the culture without trying to expropriate it as a white, South African female. Balancing my creativity with cultural appreciation rather than cultural appropriation was very important to me. 

I remembered watching a video clip years ago about a reporter cooking rice in her home and an Asian man lambasting her on everything she was doing wrong. I’ve come to appreciate even in my own family we all have our preferred method of cooking rice. There are many influences that play a part in how we choose to do things, let’s be tolerant and appreciate that the next person will have their way of doing things. Who knows, we may learn something new from a novice in that field. Let’s be open to that.  I read a book, Psyco Cybernetics years ago that helped me see this from a different perspective. I’d heard plenty about experts in various fields, but I’d never heard or read about inperts. Pasteur, the Wright Brothers, Einstein, Curie were all inperts in fields they were not experts in. Because of their knowledge in the fields they were experts in, they were able to see things from a different perspective in fields they were not experts in. Madame Curie was not a medical doctor but a physicist and yet she made valuable contributions to medical science. The same too can be said for the others mentioned. Fresh eyes from an inpert can teach us a different perspective. You will know this if you’ve ever watched children playing. They have all the confidence in their naïveté until it gets knocked out of them by “experts” who know better. 

So on a long and circuitous route I’m trying to tell you, I respect culture, I’m an inpert in curry making and please be kind to my creativity. 

I hope you enjoy it as much as Brian and I did. I loved every step of gathering, cooking, photographing and eating this meal.  I’ve finally found the lamb curry I like to eat.  Oh, and one last thought never make curry in a hurry. and NEVER make curry if you’re hungry. This curry definitely tasted better 2 days later! Curry, like a good marriage flavour needs time to develop, strengthen and intensify.

If you feel like something less daunting then maybe start with my slow cooked lamb knuckles. It’s easier to make with less ingredients and guarantee’s big flavour. You might also like to try my chicken biryani

Lamb Curry

Servings 8


Marinade  – made up of onion chilli paste, seeds, ground spices and yoghurt

    Onion Chilli Paste 

    • 1 large onion 170g peeled and roughly chopped  
    • 25-30g garlic cloves about 6 large cloves
    • 20g fresh ginger 
    • 2 green chillis (7g)
    • 2 pinches black salt Himalayan salt is fine too. I read somewhere this was a great salt for a curry. I had it in my pantry so I used it.
    • 20g odourless coconut oil / ghee refined Coconut oil has a smoke point (also known as burn point) of 232ºC. You can also use Ghee which is clarrified butter which has the same smoke point. If an oil goes beyond its smoke point it realeases chemicals that are harmful. It will also make the food taste bitter. (unrefined Avocado oil has the highest smoke point of 249ºC)


    • 30g odourless coconut oil / ghee
    • 8 cloves whole 
    • 8 cardamom pods 
    • ½ tsp coriander seeds 
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds
    • 1 Mace husk
    • ½ quill cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ajwain seeds
    • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds 

    Ground Spices 

    • 2 Tsp ground coriander 
    • 2 tsp ground cumin 
    • 2 tsp ground turmeric 
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 1 tsp chilli powder 
    • 1/4 tsp asafoetida 

    Lamb and rest of marinade ingredients  

    • 260g full fat yoghurt 
    • 1,6kg lamb neck and  or lamb knuckles (I used 1,190kg knuckles R175/kg and 478g R135/kg neck) lamb knuckles are meatier and lamb neck is fattier. I wanted both so I decided on this ratio.
    • 2 fresh bay leaves  or dry ones work fine too I have a tree in my garden so I prefer to use these fresh ones

    Caramelized Onions Yield 120g, half used for the basmati rice and the other half for the curry

    • 3 onions sliced into circles about 3mm thick
    • 3 Tbls olive oil
    • 1 tsp ground coriander   
    • 1 tsp ground cumin.
    • ¼ tsp salt
    • 100ml water 

    Making the lamb curry after marinading for 2-3 hours     

    • 30g coconut oil / ghee or more as needed
    • 1.6kg marinated lamb  see recipe above
    • Salt and pepper 
    • 4 grated tomatoes 575g gross weight
    • 2 Tbls tomato paste 
    • 1 tsp brown sugar
    • 500g Water to deglaze pan
    • 60g caramelised onions
    • 20g fresh coriander 
    • squeeze of lemon juice
    • Coriander Mint and cucumber yoghurt Banana Extra chilli 

    Aromatic Basmati Rice

    • 100g warm milk  
    • 6 strands saffron
    • 5ml rose water    
    • 400g basmati rice
    • 2L water 
    • 2 fresh bay leaves
    • 1/2 quill cinnamon
    • 20g ginger freshly grated 
    • 2 tsp Himalayan salt 
    • 2 green chilli cut in half
    •  6 sprigs mint 
    • 4 green cardamom pods bruised in mortar and pestle


    Marinade Step 1

    • Add all the Onion Chilli Paste ingredients to a food processor or blender, except the coconut oil and reserve this oil for frying the onion paste until the seeds and spices have been tempered.
    • blits to a chunky paste, to give you this consistency
    • (Optional- Add the seeds to a mortar and pestle and give them a light pounding before tempering them)Tempering the seeds and spices 
    • Get all your seeds and spices measured out and organized
    • Tempering the seeds and Spices – Heat the oil in a pan. When the oil has melted and is heated add the seeds and cook for 90 sec they will start popping. Keep a lid handy so that it doesn’t splatter on you 
    • Add the ground spices to continue the tempering process. This blooms the spices which essentially brings out their flavours.
    • and cook for a further 2-3 minutes shaking the pan constantly.
    • Remove from the heat and pour into a heat proof bowl
    • In the same pan add the 20g of oil  add the onion chilli paste and cook for 4 minutes stirring to ensure it doesn’t burn. 
    • Add the seeds and spices to the onion and continue to stir for 2 minute.
    • Turn off the heat and cool. 
    • Prepare the lamb for marinade
    • Stir in the yoghurt. 
    • Once mixed together spread over the meat.
    • Place in a glass dish, add the bay leaves and cover with lid and marinade for 2 -3 hours. 

    Caramelized Onion

    • Place the olive oil in pan on medium high heat, fry onions in oil for about 3 minutes.
    • Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to caramelised.  Stir often to make sure they don’t burn. Add water 1 Tbls at a time. With the added spices they can burn quicker than normal. Control the heat. This process should take about 10-15 minutes. Set aside until needed. 

    Making the lamb curry after marinading

    • Heat the oil in a pan. add salt and pepper to the knuckes and neck. Brown the lamb in batches on both sides. Don’t overcrowd the pan. The knuckles like space.
    • As they are done place them in a heavy based pot. I used my 28cm Le Creuset pot with lid. Add the grated tomatoes, sugar and paste to the lamb pot.
    • Deglaze the pan with the water and
    • pour that over the lamb. Cook on low heat for 1 hour.
    • Stir in half the caramelised onions (about 60g) and continue cooking for another 2 hours. Switch off and cool. 
    • Debone the lamb and add the meat back to the pot. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to your liking. A squeeze of lemon adds to the balance of flavours add as much as you feel necessary to get it just right
    • stir though the coriander 
    • Serve with sambals and aromatic basmati rice

    Aromatic Basmati Rice

    • Bloom the saffron in the milk while the rice is cooking. Add the rose water to the milk. Set aside until ready to add to rice 
      In a big saucepan add the water and aromatics. Bring the water to the boil  and add the rice. Hard boil for 15 minutes. Drain the water reserving about 100ml. Add the rice and water back to the pot. Scatter the caramelised onions over the rice. Spoon over the saffron and rose water milk and steam the rice for a further 30 -40 min on very low heat. Never stir rice. Only fluff with a fork. Serve with Lamb Curry 
    • Is the rose water necessary, no and yes. No because will you really know it's missing and yes, because it adds that authenticity of subtle flavours that you can't pinpoint until you recognise it.
    Course: Dinner, Main Course
    Cuisine: Indian
    Keyword: Lamb curry

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