Wok-Fried Lamb with Cumin


The combination of lamb and cumin may conjure up images of Middle Eastern cooking, but lamb and cumin coexist in a number of northern Chinese dishes too—typically paired with lots of hot chile pepper.

During several trips to the vibrant Chinese neighborhood in Flushing, Queens, I found wonderful versions, all equally spicy. In some, lamb breast was braised to utter tenderness and then fried crisp. In others, strips of lamb were stir-fried, as in this recipe. I haven’t met a person yet who doesn’t love it.


  • 1 pound boneless lean lamb, cut into strips ¼ inch wide and 1½ inches long
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 12 small dried red chile peppers, or more if desired
  • A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine julienne
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • ½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 6 scallions, thinly slivered


Put the lamb in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the cornstarch. Mix with your fingers to combine.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or wide cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and dried chiles. When they begin to sizzle, add the lamb, ginger, and garlic, toss well to coat the lamb, and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until the lamb is slightly browned. Add the sesame oil, cilantro, and scallions and transfer to a serving dish.