Chinese Cumin Lamb in a Bowl

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This Chinese Cumin Lamb recipe hails from the Xinjiang region in the north-west of China. The region is home to the ancient silk road trade route stretching through to the Middle East, and this classic dish is both flavoursome and aromatic. If you’ve never tried it before then I urge you to give it a go – it’s both simple and quick and you can’t really go wrong with it!

What is it?

This dish is a mix of lamb, marinated in soy sauce and rice wine which is stir-fried with cumin and chilli. It tastes delicious, and if you are a fan of cumin then you will simply love this recipe! The simplicity of the dish is as much of a selling point as its flavour. It will take you around 10 minutes of prep and about 10 minutes of ‘hands-on’ cooking time. Winner!

How do you make cumin lamb?

The lamb is first marinaded with soy sauce and rice wine mixed with cornflour. The cornflour is a bit of a ‘secret weapon’ in Chinese cooking. It actually breaks down the fibres in the meat so it tenderises it. This is perfect for fast cooking methods such as stir-frying. The official term for this is ‘velveting’.

The lamb is fried and then left to rest while the cumin and chilli are toasted. Then the onion, ginger and garlic are quickly fried. Onion isn’t authentic in this recipe, but I like to add it in for extra flavour and interest. Finally, the lamb is returned to the pan with the spices for a final heat through before serving.

Chinese Cumin Lamb Served on a table

What to serve it with

Cumin lamb is great as part of a ‘Chinese’ buffet. Think multiple dishes for sharing. If you are entertaining then this is always a real winner. If you are looking for more dishes that you can cook up for a buffet-style selection then check out this honey chilli chicken, this mandarin orange chicken or this chicken chow mein.

I also like to make this with some Chinese greens, such as pak choi with oyster sauce (also see in the picture). And of course, what Chinese meal would be complete without some good old rice?

Can you freeze it?

I wouldn’t recommend freezing this dish. The texture will definitely be affected and it will not be as tender. However, as it’s such a quick dish you don’t need to worry about batch cooking. If you want to have it ready to cook on a ‘whim’ then freeze batches of cubed lamb so you can whip it up whenever the mood takes you!

Substitutions & additions

The traditional recipe is actually made with Shaoxing wine, which I struggle to find where I live. Therefore I tend to always substitute recipes with Mirin where this is needed. It works equally as well.

I also use dark soy sauce in this recipe. You can definitely use light soy instead – which is lighter in colour and flavour, and a little saltier. Therefore the dish will be slightly different in intensity and colour – although the general taste will be the same.

Onion is not a traditional ingredient in this dish but I like to include it. You could also add some veg, such as red peppers (capsicum) or even green beans. Any veg which stir-fries well is a good option!

Products that work well for this recipe

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Chinese Cumin Lamb in a Bowl

Chinese Cumin Lamb

  • Author: caroline
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1x


Tasty, simple and delicious, this Chinese Cumin Lamb is a take on a traditional recipe from the west of China. It’s quick to make and goes great served with other Chinese dishes or simply some rice. 

The default recipe serves one


  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 120g (or 4.5 oz) lamb shoulder or leg, cubed
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce (see note 1)
  • 1 tsp shaoxing wine or mirin (see note 2)
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 1/4 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • a few sprigs coriander, finely chopped

Chinese Cumin Lamb Ingredients


1. Combine the soy sauce, mirin and cornflour in a bowl and then mix in the lamb. Set aside to marinade for 15 minutes

Step 1 - marinade the lamb

2. Heat a non-stick frying pan or skillet over a medium high heat. Add half the olive oil and add the lamb and cook for 2-3 minutes, turning every 30 seconds or so, until it’s browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. 

Step 2 - Fry The Lamb

3. Use some paper towel to wipe out the pan and return to a medium heat. Add the cumin and chilli flakes and cook for around 1 minute, until fragrant. Tip-over the set-aside lamb. 

Step 3 - Toast the Cumin

4. Add the remainder of the oil to the pan and heat. Add the garlic, ginger and onion and cook for around 2-3 minutes, until the onion is soft. 

Step 4 - Fry the onion and ginger

5. Add the lamb back into the pan and cook for a further minute or so. Stir through the coriander and serve


  1. You can substitute light soy sauce and it won’t have a huge affect on the result. I simply prefer dark soy sauce for this as it’s richer in colour and texture (and it’s also slightly less salty than light soy sauce).
  2. Traditionally this is made with shaoxing wine. However mirin works perfectly well as a subsititute if that’s what you have access to.
  3. This recipe works best with cumin seeds. If you only have ground cumin then you can use that – just half the amount and add it to the lamb in step 5 instead of toasting it earlier.
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Fry
  • Cuisine: Chinese


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 500
  • Fat: 39g
  • Carbohydrates: 8g
  • Protein: 22g

Keywords: dinner, lamb, cumin, chinese, stir fry, quick, easy

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