Sri Lankan Style Lamb Curry

Sri Lankan lamb curry on a pink napkin with rice
Although lamb is not a meat traditionally eaten in Sri Lanka, lamb curry is definitely the flavour of the month in our house! Having only tasted a Sri Lankan style lamb curry for the first time a few weeks back, it has since become a firm favourite and even rivals the prized black pork curry for its number one spot as my absolute favourite curry!

This recipe is actually inspired by my Dad who has been reminiscing excitedly about lamb curry for months and finally got around to making one for us to try (read: finally persuaded my mum to make one on his behalf) a few weeks ago. The legend behind this acclaimed lamb curry originates from when my Dad and his family first immigrated to England in the early 1960s. They were on a fairly tight budget, particularly when they first arrived, and lamb ‘strips’, as my Dad remembers them being called, were typically the cheapest cuts of meat on offer, costing around 10 to 20 pence per kilo (or 1 shilling and 2 pence per pound as he recalls)! Living in Stamford Hill, Hackney at the time, my Dad, along with his two brothers, would routinely be sent to the local butchers to buy lamb strips for my grandmother, who would then cook up a curry to feed the entire family for the whole week. Back then, of course, Sri Lankan spices were not as readily available in England, so my grandmother had to make do with a rather limited selection. She had brought over with her a few select spices in tins, and also occasionally received small amounts of spices wrapped up in newspaper, posted from relatives back in Sri Lanka. Roasted curry powder was the main seasoning in her lamb curry, along with a dash of chilli powder and some ground coriander. Sometimes served with rice, or more typically just with slices of bread, it became a staple meal in their home. The original fusion food!

Fast forward 50 years to our attempt to recreate this legendary lamb curry; the bar was set high after all the stories we’d heard, but the finished dish certainly didn’t disappoint! There was initially a bit of confusion about what lamb ‘strips’ actually were but after much deliberation and some obligatory googling it was unanimously decided that breast of lamb was what we needed. After a farcical visit to the butcher’s, entailing my uncle leaving empty handed when the butcher refused to believe that he was indeed who he said he was, when he tried to collect the meat, which we had telephoned in advance to reserve, followed by an emergency pit-stop at Sainsbury’s, we eventually got our hands on some lamb breast! My Mum actually slow cooked the lamb on a low heat for a few hours, which resulted in super soft, melt-in-the-mouth meat. If you have time, I definitely recommend cooking it this way! Words can’t do justice to how delicious the curry tasted!

With Easter weekend upon us, what better excuse (as if one were needed) is there to cook up a lamb curry – a fantastic alternative to the more traditional roast!

Small warning – breast of lamb, although incredibly flavoursome, is particularly fatty, which might be off-putting to some. If you find there is too much fat for your taste, a lot of it can be skimmed off once cooked. Alternatively, try using a leaner cut, if you prefer.

Serves: 4-6 (served as part of a rice and curry meal)

Ingredients

500g lamb breast, cut into small strips of about 5cm
1-2 tbsp oil
Curry leaves
Cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 white onion, sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp roasted curry powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1tbsp vinegar
150 ml of tamarind water (made from concentrated pulp or paste)
200-400 ml coconut milk (depending on how much gravy you like)
Salt, to taste

Note: I have recently noticed it increasing difficult to get my hands on fresh curry leaves in England. If you can’t find any, don’t worry… The curry will taste just as good without them!

Ingredients for lamb curry

Method

  1. Heat oil in a heavy based saucepan and add curry leaves, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods.
  2. Next, add the onion, ginger and garlic and fry until softened.
  3. Add the remaining spices, salt and vinegar and stir until onion is evenly coated.
  4. Add the lamb pieces and stir to coat well in spice mixture. Reduce heat, cover and leave to cook for about an hour, or until cooked.
  5. Finally, pour in coconut milk and simmer for 5-10 mins before serving.

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