Saffron-Scented Lamb with an Almond Sauce
I believe lamb, saffron, and almonds are a culinary ménage à trois that is meant to be together at all times. The earthy meat, creamy almonds, and perfumed saffron bring in elements characteristic of Moghal cooking—the cuisine of the Muslim emperors who had a profound cultural influence in northern India. Smoky black cardamom adds another twist, along with the other aromatic ingredients in the spice blend. Remove the whole spices from the curry before serving it, or instruct your guests to set them aside should they land on their plate.
Total Timeunder 1 hour
OccasionCasual Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Textureherby, meaty, nutty, savory, spiced
- 2 tablespoons Ghee or canola oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long)
- 3 fresh or dried bay leaves
- 3 black cardamom pods
- 1 medium-size red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1½ pounds boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed off and discarded, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup slivered blanched almonds
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1½ teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
Heat the ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and cardamom pods. Cook until they sizzle, crackle, and are aromatic, about 1 minute. Then immediately add the onion and lower the heat to medium. Stir-fry until the onion is soft and honey-brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the lamb and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown and some ghee separates from the mixture, 15 to 20 minutes. (The meat will sear a bit, then release its liquid, and once the liquid evaporates, start to brown.)
While the lamb does its thing, pour ½ cup water into a blender jar. Add the almonds and puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to form a slightly gritty, milky white paste.
Once the lamb has browned, pour in the almond paste. Pour 1 cup water into the blender jar, and swish it around to wash it out. Add this to the skillet, along with the saffron and salt. Once the curry comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is fork-tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
Stir in the cilantro, and serve.
2008 Raghavan Iyer