Lamb Biryani


  • 1½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, removed from the pods
  • 1- to 2-inch cinnamon stick, broken up
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 6 large onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh turmeric, grated or finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds lamb (shoulder cut or chops) cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1½ cups Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 2 fresh red chili peppers
  • 3 tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons currants, plumped up in boiling water and then drained
  • 2 fresh serrano peppers, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, loosely chopped


  1. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the whole seeds and spices for 1 minute, shaking the pan to move them around until fragrant — toast lightly. 
  2. Remove from pan and let them cool. Then place into a spice or coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Grind as fine as you can get (the cinnamon will be the most challenging). Add the cayenne and salt. Mix the saffron and crush it with the back of a spoon in a small bowl. Add the boiling water. Stir and set aside for the rice.
  3. Add oil to a large pot and place it over medium to high heat. Add the onion slices. Cook until well browned – approximately 10-15 minutes.
  4. Once browned, set aside two-thirds of the onions for later. Add the chopped ginger and turmeric and sauté with the leftover onions for 1 minute. 
  5. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Garlic should be translucent but not brown; reduce heat if necessary. Bring the heat back up to medium-high. Move the onion-garlic mixture to the edges and add the lamb cubes in the middle. Add a bit of oil if necessary. Brown well (don’t move the lamb pieces around). Add the spice blend you made earlier and stir in well. Add the Greek yogurt. 
  6. Stir once–the yogurt should be just starting to bubble. Reduce heat to low and cook until the lamb is tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. You can cover with the lid to speed up the process. Check at 45 minutes.
  7. Place rice in a strainer over a bowl. Run cold water over the rice, stirring it and then draining the water. 
  8. Keep doing this until the water in the bowl is clear. Then leave the rice in the strainer in the bowl with clear water to sit for about 30 minutes. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
  9. Drain the rice well and add to the pot with the boiling water. After the water returns to a boil, cook for 5 minutes. Drain and return the rice to an empty bowl. Drizzle the saffron water and spiced mixture over the rice.
  10. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Take a large lidded casserole dish or braising pan that will hold all the rice and lamb, and spray with oil or butter. Spread one-third of the rice into the dish. 
  11.  Spread half of the lamb mixture evenly over the rice. Repeat with another one-third of the rice, and then the other half of the lamb. Top with the remaining rice. Add the red chili peppers to the top.
  12. Cover with tin foil. Put the lid on top of the foil to create a tight seal. Bake for 40 minutes. When removing from the oven, be careful when removing the foil — there will be steam. 
  13. Stir the lamb and rice. Taste and adjust any seasonings. 
  14. Add 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro to the mixture. Pile this up on a serving platter or bowl.
  15. Spread the onions you had set aside earlier over the entire dish. Garnish with sliced or slivered almonds, currants and sliced serrano peppers. Top with the red chili peppers.


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