Lamb biryani

Lamb biryani

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  • 8
  • Medium
  • 1 Hour plus 4 hours marinating time
  • 2.5 hours

“In our home, no celebration is complete without biryani. It is often accompanied by raita – a yoghurt sauce that pairs well with spicy Indian dishes to help refresh and cool the palate. Our other favourite sides include a simple carrot salad, and pickled onions, which help balance the richness of this dish.”


  • For the lamb:
  • 3 whole green cardamom (elachi) pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ t black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 onions, finely sliced
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1½ kg lamb pieces
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • 1 T ginger and garlic paste
  • 4 t chilli powder
  • 1 t dhania (coriander) powder
  • 1 t jeera (cumin) powder
  • 1 t turmeric powder
  • 3 green chillies, ground
  • 3 green chillies, whole
  • 400 g roma tomatoes, pureed
  • 1½ cups double-cream yoghurt
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 100 g butter, cubed
  • 1 cup water
  • For the rice:
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 t turmeric powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 4½ cups water
  • For the potatoes:
  • 6 potatoes
  • 1 t turmeric powder
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • For the lentils:
  • 1½ cups lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf

Cooking Instructions

1. Add the whole spices (cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves) to a pan and lightly roast, stirring and tossing frequently over medium heat, until they begin to smell toasty and fragrant. Transfer them to a bowl and allow to cool before grinding in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

2. Fry the onions in some vegetable oil on medium-high heat until crisp. Spread on a paper towel to soak up excess oil, and allow to cool.

3. Place the lamb pieces in a large bowl, and add the ground whole spices, ¼ of the fried onions, curry leaves, ginger and garlic paste, chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, green chillies (ground and whole), yoghurt, pureed tomatoes and lemon juice. Mix well and allow to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.

4. Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear. (This may take up to a minute.) Rinsing rice before you cook it is key – it washes away the starchy powder that would otherwise make the grains of rice clump and stick together.

5. Combine rice, cinnamon sticks, turmeric powder, salt and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes – the rice must still have a hard centre when rolled between your fingers. Strain and set aside.

6. Preheat oven to 180°C. Peel potatoes, cube them, and toss them in the turmeric powder and the vegetable oil. Place on a baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and place back in the oven to allow the potatoes to brown.

7. Rinse the lentils in a fine-mesh sieve, then add them to a pot with the water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain, and remove the bay leaf.

8. Place the marinated lamb in a large casserole. Add a layer of lentils over the meat, then place the roasted potatoes over the lentils. Cover with the rice. Add the rest of the fried onion and dot with cubes of butter. Gently pour 1 cup of water over the rice, cover the dish with foil, and bake in the oven at 180°C for 1-1½ hours. Serve with raita, carrot salad and pickled red onion.

Find more Diwali recipes here. 

Photograph: Toby Murphy
Production: Khanya Mzongwana
Food assistant: Thandi Mamacos

Landi Govender Recipe by: Landi Govender
View all recipes

Landi is a mother, baker, blogger, and food photographer. She loves sharing creative ideas and fresh takes on her favourite foods. (Jalebi ice cream sandwiches, anyone?) "A lot of my recipes are inspired by my childhood and of course my grandmother who taught me the importance of cooking with love," says Landi. Follow Landi on Instagram @thetockablog.

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