Lamb Curry with Tamarind

Back in December I purchased a large number of lamb shanks from a small farm in southern Minnesota—the same place from which I’d got the excellent oxtail that went into this New Year’s Day curry. A few weeks ago I finally got around to cooking some of them. Not paying close attention, I thawed almost exactly 4 lbs worth of shanks. I then decided to divide them into two lots and make two different preparations of them—this so that we wouldn’t be eating one curry forever. Of course, what I hadn’t thought through is that because so much of the weight is in the bones, 4 lbs of lamb shanks is pretty close to 2 lbs of meat from the point of view of portions. Still, I’m glad I made the two curries as both came out rather well and it was nice to alternate them till both were gone. You could make either recipe just as easily with beer or with mutton/goat. Indeed, if you look closely you’ll see that this recipe is a close relative of an earlier one I’d posted for mutton curry with star anise and vinegar—there are some differences in spices and ratios but those differences do make, well, a real difference, as does the fact that the souring agent here is tamarind. If you do make it with lamb shanks I’d advise not bothering with hacking the shanks up yourself inexpertly with a cleaver as I did. You can always just pull the meat off the bones before serving if the shanks are too large.


  • 2 lbs lamb on the bone, preferably with some shanks in there too
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • Roughly 1 tspn each freshly pounded ginger and garlic
  • The following lightly toasted, cooled and ground to a coarse powder: 1 tspn cumin seeds, 1 tspn coriander seeds, 1 tspn black peppercorns, 1/4 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds, 3 star anise, a little bit more cinnamon/cassia bark than star anise, 3 dried red chillies (I used two milder byadgi chillies and one hot chilli)
  • 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/2 cup hot water for 20 minutes, squeezed to extract the pulp and strained
  • 1 tblspn jaggery/brown sugar
  • 3 Thai chillies, slit lengthwise (seeded, if you prefer)
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • Hot water off the boil, as needed


  1. Heat 2 tblspns of oil over medium heat in a thick-bottomed saucepan and add the curry leaves.
  2. Once the curry leaves turn glossy add the sliced onions and saute till nicely browned.
  3. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
  4. Add the pieces of lamb and the salt, mix and saute for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly.
  5. Add the powdered spices and the haldi, mix thoroughly and saute for another minute or two.
  6. Add the strained tamarind extract, the jaggery and the slit green chillies, stir, bring to a high simmer and cook till the oil separates.
  7. Add enough water to just cover the meat, return to a simmer, cover the pan and cook till the meat is tender. Check every once in a while to make sure the meat is not sticking at the bottom of the pan and to to add more water, 1 cup at a time, as necessary. The final consistency of the curry should be easily pourable but not too thin.
  8. Taste, adjust salt and serve with steamed rice


  1. As the name of the recipe indicates, this recipe calls for tamarind as the souring agent. If you don’t have fresh or block tamarind, however, I would recommend using 2-3 tblspns of balsamic vinegar instead of tamarind concentrate. But if you’re in the US what I’d really recommend is getting a block of tamarind from your closest Indian or Southeast Asian store. Readers in India will, of course, have no problem finding the real thing.
  2. The main source of heat here is the peppercorns and the slit green chillies. The dried chillies are mostly for colour. Depending on how hot your green chillies are this could result in a pretty hot dish. If you do insist on making it hotter you could just use all hot chillies for the dried as well.
  3. As with all such dishes with tamarind (or vinegar) this will taste even better on the second day.
  4. For a variation you could add a cup of coconut milk after the meat is done and simmer for another 10 minutes or so. This will make it richer and will also make it somewhat like the meatball curry from Flavours of the Spice Coast, which is, I now realize, probably the unconscious inspiration for this dish.



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