My favorite Indian cookbook recipe: Lamb Korma Pilaf from "50 Great Curries of India"

My favorite Indian cookbook recipe: Lamb Korma Pilaf from “50 Great Curries of India”

Lamb Korma Pilaf

Drizzling the Lamb Korma Pilaf with homemade saffron yogurt sauce and tamarind chutney just before serving ensures every bite is the ‘perfect bite’

Many people ask me if I have a favorite Indian cookbook. I’m not an Indian cookbook snob by any means. I collect all kinds of tomes, from richly bound hardcovers to bargain table paperbacks. I do this so I can learn as much as I can about different facets of Indian cooking. With such a diverse cuisine spanning such a large subcontinent, I don’t discriminate when it comes to Indian cookbooks because I discover the smallest jewels of knowledge in bargain books that may not have the greatest photos, but have terrific recipes and factoids. Conversely, some of the more famous, expensive hardcover Indian cookbooks have beautiful photos, but the recipes don’t always turn out well. If you don’t have time to experiment as much as I do, just check out some of the recipes I’ve posted on this blog — I only post the ones I really love and work well…after lots of hits and misses!

A few of my many Indian cookbooks

A few of my many Indian cookbooks…if I could only pick one, it would be 50 Great Curries of India

If I could only pick one Indian cookbook that I consider a “good buy” it would be 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi, who impressively read economics at Cambridge and later worked for India’s Taj Hotels group; her family’s restaurant company Masala World owns among other things, the renown Veeraswamy, which was the first Indian restaurant in London in 1926. I found her cookbook in Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago and have been impressed with the authenticity of her recipes and useful explanations of Indian flavor combinations.

If I had to pick one of my favorite recipes, it would be her Lamb Korma Pilaf. First, onions are slow cooked with whole spices like cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom until they are golden brown; then, boneless lamb is added and the whole thing continues to cook low and slow for another hour until the lamb is so tender it melts in your mouth. Layering it in a baking pan with saffron basmati rice, you bake it to seal in the flavors, before topping it with a drizzle of yogurt saffron sauce and tamarind chutney right before serving. As my husband Sean says, every bite is the perfect bite. Layers upon layers of flavor. I changed the original recipe a bit, but I find I end up tweaking almost every recipe I try. Likewise, you may make something from this blog and change it a little to suit your taste or based on what’s in your fridge or pantry. Filling a large baking pan, this pilaf feeds six people and can be prepared a day ahead and kept covered with foil in the fridge until you’re ready to heat it in the oven and serve.

Lamb Korma Pilaf (adapted)

Serves 4 

Ingredients for the Lamb Korma

  • 4-5 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5 cloves
  • 5 cardamoms
  • 2-4 cinnamon stick
  • 2 pounds boneless cubes of lamb
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoons red chilli powder or cayenne powder (to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
  • 1.5 tablespoons Shan brand Biryani Masala mix
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Heat the oil in a large, wide non-stick skillet. Fry the onions slowly until they are medium brown (this can take up to 30-40 min and can burn easily so keep an eye on it — I once made this with a friend, and we were chatting away while the onions burned, and we had to redo everything!). Add the ginger, garlic, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the lamb and fry over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally for at least 15 min. The longer you do, the better the taste.
  2. Add the coriander powder, turmeric, cumin, red chilli, nutmeg, and biryani masala. Mix well. Add 1/3 cup water and stir. Let it simmer for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the yogurt, tomatoes, and salt. Stir, cover with lid and leave to cook until the lamb is cooked. Do this for 1 hour; check every 15 minutes to see if the pot has dried up completely; if so, add 1/2 cup of water or more.
  4. Once lamb is done it should have a thick spice coating, but not a runny gravy.
Browning onions in spices

Take your time slowly browning 4 large onions in spices…this is the key to achieving the rich taste of the korma

Adding boneless, skinless lamb to onion and spices

Add 2 pounds of boneless, skinless lamb; ask for ‘stewing lamb’ that is usually cubed from leg of lamb

Slow cooked lamb with onions and spices

This is how the lamb should look after it’s slow cooked with onions and spices for almost 2 hours

Ingredients for the Pilaf

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 cups basmati rice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups water
  • A pinch of saffron


  1. Heat cumin seeds in oil in medium saucepan. Once the cumin seeds start to glisten and move a little, add basmati rice and bay leaves and sauté for 2 minutes.
  2. Add water and saffron threads. Bring to a boil and simmer on low for 20 min until rice is cooked. Cover and set aside.
Basmati rice with cumin seeds, bay leaf, and saffron

Basmati rice is cooked with cumin seeds, bay leaf, and saffron

Assembling the Lamb Korma Pilaf

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Take a non-stick lasagna tray and brush or spray the bottom. Put in half the rice and spread it evenly. Then put the cooked lamb on top and smooth over. Then put the rest of the rice on top. Cover with foil and bake for 20 min.
Layering rice with lamb korma

Begin the layering process by spreading half the cooked rice on the bottom of a baking dish, then follow with the lamb korma

Layering rice with lamb korma

Top the lamb korma by covering it with another layer of the remaining rice

Lamb korma pilaf

All ready to go in the oven. If you aren’t serving it right away, cover tightly with foil and refrigerate.

Ingredients for the Saffron Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • A pinch of saffron


  1. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of saffron threads into yogurt in a small bowl. Don’t stir, just let it combine on its own.
  2. After 30-60 minutes, gently mix with a fork before serving by drizzling over each plated serving of pilaf.
Saffron yogurt sauce

Create a luxurious saffron yogurt sauce by combining whole fat yogurt with a few strands of saffron in a small bowl for 30-40 minutes before serving.

Lamb Korma Pilaf

Recipe adapted from 50 Great Curries of India