herbed lamb pilaf


Nik Sharma

Hey Friends, I’m a multi-award-winning and best-selling cookbook author and photographer.

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by the American Lamb Board. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Pilafs or pulaos, whatever you might refer to them as are the best one-pot meals. You can serve this herbed lamb pilaf for a special occasion or as an everyday meal.

I’m borrowing the technique of layering cooked meat with rice, one that you might have come across when making the wonderfully aromatic biryanis. You might also note that I cut out marination; I’ve tried this recipe both ways (marinated and un-marinated) and didn’t find much difference in texture or flavor of the meat, so the recipe here skips marination, and the meat cooks in the spiced yogurt liquid till it is completely tender. If you own a high-pressure cooker, you can cut back your cooking time by cooking the meat separately, but you will still need to reduce the liquid before it can be added to the rice. Cuts of American lamb used for stew are ideal here, but it is much easier to find a boneless leg at most grocery stores. Just buy a little over 2 lbs [900 g], trim off, discard the excess fat, and chop the meat into cubes before cooking them. For more on how to buy lamb and cooking tips, visit the American Lamb Board.

The fresh herbs give this pilaf most of its flavor, while adding fresh chilli adds a note of heat with an herb-like edge. If you want to reduce the heat, remove the midrib and discard it along with the seeds, this is where most of the capsaicin (the heat molecule) resides. You can also swap in fresh green chilli with lower heat.

You don’t need too many side dishes or condiments with this pilaf. Most often, I serve this with plain yogurt, raita, and an aachar (Indian pickle).

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herbed lamb pilaf

This easy lamb pilaf gets its flavor from fresh herbs and green chillies. You can also cook the meat separately in a pressure cooker to save time, but you will need to reduce the liquid volume to about 1/4 cup/60 ml before it can be layered over the rice. Used aged basmati (about 1 to 2 years old) for a more robust aroma. You can also halve the amount of rice; make sure to halve the water used to soak and cook it.

Note: if you can’t find American lamb stew meat. Pick up some boneless lamb meat, ask your butcher (you can do this yourself), trim the excess fat, and cut it into 1 in/2.5 cm cubes. You should have about 2 lbs/910 g of lamb meat. Check out the American Lamb Board to learn more about lamb and the different options available.

  • Yield: 4


1 cup/240 g 5% or full-fat plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt

1 cup/240ml water

One small white onion, diced

1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and stem

4 garlic cloves, peeled

2 in/5 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled

One whole Serrano or Thai chilli

2 Tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp fine sea salt, divided

1/4 cup 60 ml ghee , olive oil, or grapeseed oil

2 lb/900 g American lamb stew meat cut into 1 inch [2.5 cm] cubes (see Headnotes above)

2 cups/400 g basmati rice

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp ground green cardamom

3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves

3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill


  1. Blend the yogurt, water, onion, cilantro, garlic, ginger, chilli, lemon juice, peppercorns, turmeric, and 1/2 tsp salt on high speed until smooth.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp of ghee or oil in a medium saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the lamb and sauté till they brown. Pour in the yogurt mixture, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook until the lamb is completely tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally during cooking to ensure the meat doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. You can also do this in a pressure cooker and cook the meat over high pressure for 25 minutes. Once the meat is cooked, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until about 1/4 cup/60 ml liquid is left behind. While the lamb cooks, prepare the rice. Clean the rice for any debris or stones, and rinse under running tap water in a fine mesh strainer till the run-off water is no longer cloudy. Transfer to a medium bowl and cover the rice with enough water, about 1 in/2.5 cm above the height of the rice. Keep aside to soak for 30 minutes.
  3. Once the lamb is done, transfer the lamb with the liquids to a medium bowl. Rinse and wipe the saucepan down and return to the stove. Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining ghee or oil. When the oil is hot, add the cumin and cook for 30 to 45 seconds till the seeds start to sizzle and turn brown. Stir in the cardamom. Drain the rice and discard the water. Add the rice to the hot oil and fry the grains till they no longer stick to each other, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add 4 cups/960 ml water with the remaining 1/2 tsp salt, bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat and then reduce to a simmer. Cover the saucepan with a lid and let the rice cook till most of the water has almost evaporated (about 1/4 cup/60 ml liquid should be left behind) and the rice is partially cooked, about 20 minutes. The grains should still be a bit firm; if it cooks all the way, that’s fine, the grains might be split a little on the ends, but that is okay.
  4. Remove the saucepan from the stove and transfer half of the rice to a plate or bowl. Top the remaining rice in the saucepan with the cooked lamb and drizzle the cooked liquids. Layer the surface of the lamb with the rice kept aside in the bowl in an even layer. Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, till all the liquid evaporates. Remove from heat and let the dish sit covered for 5 minutes. When ready to serve, fluff the rice and lamb with a fork, and sprinkle in the chopped fresh cilantro and dill. Serve hot or warm with plain yogurt or raita.

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