Treat your friends and family to a deeply satisfying curry and make it your own. If you aren't a lamb lover, beef works beautifully. And if you are heat-shy, simply reduce the chili powder. Make this stew from start to finish on the stovetop or in the Instant pot, or finish cooking it in a slow cooker. This glorious Coconut Lamb Curry is a must!
About Madras Curry
British Indian food lovers may recognize this combination of spices as a Madras-style curry. The name refers to the city of Madras which is now called Chennai. And in the U.K., this curry is code for a very hot and fiery masala.
My tolerance for heat from chilies is pretty low, so this vibrant curry recipe is captivating, but not incendiary. Certainly, make it as hot or mild as you like!
The inspiration for this recipe is another winner from Hari Ghotra’s YouTube channel. And I took a cue from Madhur Jaffrey’s Madras curry and added coconut milk. It brings a rich, sweetness to the dish and allows the spices to blend more gracefully.
Coconut Lamb Curry is a rich and complex dish that you will love. It is a uniquely flavored curry that is hard to find in Indian restaurants in the U.S. And substituting a prepared Madras Spice Powder is a great way to streamline the cook time.
What's to Love
- Detailed instructions so even beginner cooks can make it
- Is beautifully balanced with spices, acid, and heat
- Checks all the boxes for a rich and satisfying curry
- Easy to prepare, fitting into your schedule
Ingredients & Substitutions
I love the combination of coconut, curry leaves, and some sort of acid, lime juice in this case. This recipe may have more ingredients than you are used to but they can all be easily found--or a good substitute--in any grocery store.
A Shortcut Note
Instead of most of the spices in this dish, you can substitute a good spice mix. Make my Madras Curry Powder recipe or buy one. Also, see that recipe for Madras Curry spice mix brand recommendations. I have a good list of online Indian grocers if you want to buy ingredients online.
Here is what you need:
- Lamb (or beef)
- Spices: Coriander, fennel (or anise) seeds, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and turmeric
- Or, instead of these spices, use a good Madras curry powder (make or buy)
- White poppy seeds or cashews
- Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne
- Coconut oil, or oil of your choice
- Mustard seeds
- Curry leaves or lime zest
- Ginger garlic paste (make or buy)
- Coconut milk
- Lime or lemon juice
How to Make Coconut Lamb Curry
If time allows, I like to make this curry over two or three days. This makes the preparation feel more doable, and you have an even more flavorful masala. Three days is actually ideal. Day 1, marinate the lamb, Day 2, cook the curry, and serve on Day 3.
SKIP this step if using Madras Curry Powder: Toast the whole spices: coriander, fennel seeds, poppy seeds or cashews, cumin, cardamom, cassia, and cloves.
Toasting whole spices
Whole spices in a spice grinder
Let the spices cool for 5 minutes and grind to a powder. Add turmeric, chili powder, and salt.
Meat coated with spices
Coat the lamb with the spices. If you have time, allow the meat to marinate for 2 hours, or overnight.
Heat a saucepan and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. When mustard seeds are popping, immediately stir in the curry leaves, onions, and salt.
Adding in the ginger garlic paste
The meat just cooked on high for 3 mins
Cook the onions until they begin to brown. Stir in the ginger garlic paste. Sauté for 30 to 60 seconds, stirring continuously until it no longer smells raw.
Add the lamb and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and add the coconut milk. Cook very gently until the sauce thickens and the lamb is very tender. About 60 minutes and 90 minutes.
Add lime juice and taste for salt, acid (lime), and heat level from chilies.
And Slow Cooker or Instant Pot!
Slow Cooker Instructions
Make the curry on the stovetop through Step 4, then pour the mixture into a slow cooker. Cover and cook for 4-6 hours on high, or 8-10 hours on low.
If you want a thicker sauce, remove the lamb and simmer the sauce on the stovetop until it reaches the desired consistency. Or, add water if a slightly thinner sauce is preferred.
Method for the Instant Pot
Using the sauté function, follow the stovetop instructions through Step 4, except add the coconut milk and water to barely cover the meat. Cook on High Pressure for 30 minutes and then turn to Natural Pressure Release. Stir in the lime juice and adjust for seasonings.
If the sauce is thinner than you wish, remove the meat and select the Sauté function. Simmer until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.
Tips & Tricks
- I only recently discovered coconut milk powder. It works as a great lifesaver when you are out of canned coconut, and it is nonperishable, so you don't need to worry about using up a whole can.
- Potatoes are a good addition. They soak up the rich gravy and just may become your favorite part. Cut the potatoes into approximately 1 1/5-inch cubes and stir into the curry 45-minutes after you start cooking the lamb. Cook the stew until both the potato and lamb are tender.
- Check your work and taste, taste, taste. Adding just the right amount of salt and acid before serving makes all the difference. The heady mix of spices in a curry sometimes requires more salt than one would think. It is all about balance!
Questions and Answers
The best cut of lamb to use is the more affordable lamb shoulder, but leg of lamb also works well. I prefer to get a large piece of meat and cut it into cubes. I can choose the size of pieces I prefer and they are more evenly sized. Certainly used precut stewing meat if you prefer.
They add richness and help thicken the sauce. If you can't find white poppyseeds, cashews are the best substitute.
This is a rich, celebratory dish, so go for whole coconut milk!
Serving, Storing, and Reheating
It also freezes well. Using a ziplock bag or airtight container it will keep for 1 to 2 months. Ideally, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, but a quick thaw in the microwave also works. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit of liquid; any sort of milk or even water will do.
Some other Delicious South Indian Recipes
And more South Indian recipes besides!
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments below. Thank you! ~Alonna
Recipe Card 📖
Coconut Lamb Curry (Madras Curry)
Marinade ~ See Shortcut in Notes Below
- 2 pounds lamb ~ Or beef cut into cubes
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds ~ Or anise
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick ~ 3 inches
- 6 whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon white poppy seeds ~ Or the same amount of cashews. See Notes below.
- 2 1/2 teaspoons Kashmiri ground red chili ~ To taste. See Notes! And Substitutions
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea or table salt ~ Substitutions
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil ~ Or oil of your choice
- 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds ~ Or yellow
- 10 fresh curry leaves ~ Optional, coarsely chopped. See Notes below. And about
- 1 1/2 cups onions ~ Finely diced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Buy or make; or 1 1/2 teaspoon each puréed or finely minced garlic and ginger
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon lime juice ~ More to taste
- 2 tablespoons cilantro ~ Optional, chopped for garnish
- SKIP this step and the Next, if using Madras Curry Powder (See Notes below). In a medium pan over medium heat, add all the whole spices: coriander, anise or fennel seeds, poppy seeds or cashews, cumin, cardamom, cassia, and cloves. Toast for a minute or two until fragrant. Let cool for 5 minutes.
- Grind spices in a spice grinder, straining out any big pieces and then run through the grinder again until all the spices are ground to a fairly fine powder. Discard any larger pieces that are leftover. Add the turmeric, chili powder, and salt.
- Place lamb in a large bowl and coat with the spices. (Be sure to add the turmeric, chili powder, and salt if using a bottled Madras Curry Powder. Also, you may not want all of the Kashmiri chili powder--see Notes). Allow the lamb or beef to marinate for 2 hours, or overnight.
- While the meat is marinating, gather your sauce ingredients.
- Heat a heavy dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, test a couple of mustard seeds. If they pop immediately, add the rest of the seeds. When mustard seeds are popping, immediately stir in the curry leaves, onions, and salt.
- Turn the heat down to medium and cook the onions until they begin to brown; about 8 to 10 minutes. If the onions stick to the bottom of the pan, add water in 1 tablespoon increments as needed.
- Stir in the ginger garlic paste. Sauté for 30 to 60 seconds, stirring continuously until it no longer smells raw. Add the meat and 2 tablespoons of water.
- Turn the heat to high and cook for 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and more water as needed to just cover the meat and bring to another brief boil scraping any caramelized spices on the bottom of the pan into the rest of the sauce. Reduce the heat to the setting on your stove that allows the curry to cook at a gentle simmer.
- Stir occasionally, adding water as needed. You are looking for the sauce to thicken and the lamb to be very tender. Lamb will take between 60 minutes and 90 minutes. Beef could take up to 90 minutes depending on the size of your cubes.
- Add lime juice starting with a tablespoon, adding more as needed. Taste for salt, acid (lime), and heat level from chilies. As with most curries, allowing the meat to rest in the sauce overnight will give you an even more flavorful dish. However, the curry is delicious now! Serve with a simple rice dish and/or Indian bread.
- If you want to buy or make Madras curry powder. Three tablespoons of this spice mix can replace all the marinade spices from coriander through turmeric! Just be aware that most Madras Curry Powders already have some ground red chili in them, so you may want to adjust the Kashmiri chili. You can always add more at the end.
- If you are cutting lamb or beef into cubes yourself, you may want to purchase an extra half-pound of meat. I find that a large cut of lamb or beef often has quite a bit of fat that needs to be trimmed away.
- Curry leaves add herbaceous, anise, and citrus notes to a dish. If you can’t find them, you can add 1 teaspoon of lime zest. The result won't be the same but the zest can add some of the citrus notes you get with the real thing. Try to buy unwaxed fruit.
- Indian white poppy seeds are different enough from black poppy seeds, that if you don’t have them, it is best to use cashews instead. The purpose of either is to add body to the final sauce for this coconut lamb curry.
- Coconut Lamb Curry is one of the Top 20 Dishes in India, enjoy!