Make your own lamb biryani

Award-winning chef Joe Thottungal shares the recipe for lamb biryani from his new cookbook.

Chef Joe Thottungal shares a recipe from his new cookbook celebrating foods from Kerala, India

Chef Joe Thottungal of Coconut Lagoon and Thali restaurants in Ottawa. (Evan Bergstra)

For 15 years, Joe Thottungal has been serving flavours — including fiery chili peppers, curry leaves and coconut — from Kerala, India, at his Coconut Lagoon restaurant.

"We don't keep recipes as such. It's just passed on. We learn from seeing how the dish is prepared. So my mother learned from her mother," said Thottungal, who is sharing some of his kitchen secrets in his new cookbook, Coconut Lagoon: Recipes from a South Indian Kitchen.

Lamb Biryani from Coconut Lagoon. (PHOTOLUX)

His big piece of advice is to keep the individual spices for garam masala whole, and grind them as needed for optimal freshness and flavour.

"The flavours are amazing.... Grind them up as you go along because it will preserve more with the whole spices. When the [garam masala] is powdered the flavour will go and you're just putting on some powder. We don't want that."

Thottungal shared the recipe for a festive lamb biryani dish on CBC Radio's All In A Day this week, which he served at for the prime minister in 2015.

Lamb biryani 


  • 4 tbsp ghee
  • Handful raisins
  • Handful raw cashews
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 6 cloves
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 cups kaima or basmati rice, washed
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1-2 Indian bay leaves (optional)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 Indian or Thai green chilis, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1.5 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs lamb shanks, or 1 lb stewing lamb
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp mint, coarsely chopped 
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fried onions
  • 2 tsp rosewater


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add raisins and cashews and roast for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the nuts turn golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cashews and raisins and set aside.
  2. Add cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and star anise and roast in the residual ghee for 1 minute. Add rice and fry for 2 to 3 minutes until rice is well coated.
  3. Add 4 cups of water, 1 teaspoon salt, and optional bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring to prevent rice and spices from sticking until the water is absorbed. Set aside.
  4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large frying pan over high heat. Add onions and chiles and sauté for 2 minutes. Add ginger-garlic paste and garam masala and cook 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to medium, add tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Add lamb and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, allowing the meat to brown on all sides.
  6. Add one cup of water and cook, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lamb is tender.
  7. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice, mint and cilantro. Set aside.
  8. Pre-heat oven to 350 F. 
  9. In a large casserole dish, arrange a layer of rice, a layer of the lamb mixture and a sprinkle of fried onions. Repeat 2 more times, ending with a layer of rice. Sprinkle the rice with rosewater, seal with 2 layers of aluminum foil, and bake for 10 minutes.
  10. Garnish with the raisins and cashews.

CBC Radio's All In A Day


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