Lamb in a fennel-flavoured coconut sauce

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Photo by ryemang

This’ll give your taste buds a tingle. One of the best lamb dishes from Tamil Nadu in the south of India, it has a sauce the consistency of cream soup and like the place it comes from it’s quite hot. To lessen the fire, decrease the cayenne and increase the paprika proportionately.

For 4-6

For the spice paste:

1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
3 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
8-10 garlic cloves, peeled
7.5 cm (3 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
75g (3 oz) freshly grated coconut


6 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
3 bay leaves
4 cardamom pods
5 cm (2 inch) cinnamon stick
3 cloves
20 fresh curry leaves, if available
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1½-1¾ teaspoons salt
1 kg (2.¼ lb) lamb, from shoulder and neck, with or without bone as preferred, cut into 4 cm (1½ inch) pieces
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Make the spice paste: Put the fennel seeds and poppy seeds into a clean coffee grinder and grind until you’ve a fine powder. Empty into a bowl. Add the coriander, cayenne pepper, paprika and turmeric. Mix.

In the container of an electric blender combine the garlic, ginger and coconut. Add 200ml (7fl oz) / a cup of water. Blend until you have a smooth paste, scraping down with a rubber spatula when necessary. This is the spice paste.

Heat the 6 tablespoons of oil in a heavy, well-seasoned wok or a large, wide, preferably non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, put in the ¼ teaspoon of fennel seeds, bay leaves, cardamom pods and cinnamon. Stir once or twice, add the curry leaves. Stir once and add the onions. Stir and fry until the onions soften and begin to turn brown at the edges. Add the tomatoes. Stir and fry until the tomatoes soften. Now add the coconut spice paste and salt. Stir and fry for 5-6 minutes, sprinkling in a little water if it seems to stick. Add the lamb. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. Now add 900 ml (1½ pints) / 3¾ cups of water. Bring to boil. Cover, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 60-70 minutes or until the lamb is tender. If the sauce is too watery, turn up the heat and reduce it to the consistency of a thick cream soup.

Sprinkle the top with fresh coriander before serving. It’s delicious with plain rice, maybe a little yogurt on the side, or some poppadoms and pickles, mmm…

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