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  • Toby Kramer


A tender version of a popular Dongbei stir-fry of lamb with dried chilies, made fragrant and crunchy with cumin seeds — a legacy of the nomadic Mongols who long ruled Central Asia, carrying spices on horseback along with their arrows. Lamb is considered a Northern taste and excessively “strong” by many Chinese cooks; it is always cooked with powerful aromatics, like chili peppers and garlic, to subdue it.


Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon egg white

1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt, more to taste

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 pound boneless leg of lamb or lamb shoulder, cut into strips about ½ inch by 2 inches

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons cumin seeds, lightly cracked in a mortar or grinder

2 tablespoons whole dried red chilli peppers, about 2 inches long

4 scallions, white and green parts only, cut on diagonal into 1-inch lengths

Sesame oil, for seasoning


Step 1 In a bowl combine egg white, wine, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Add lamb and set aside to marinate 1 hour.

Step 2 Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Swirl half the oil into wok and carefully add lamb, spreading it in a single layer. Let sear a moment, then stir-fry briskly just until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer to a plate. (If your wok is not large enough to hold all the lamb, do this in 2 batches, using extra oil.)

Step 3 Swirl remaining 1½ tablespoons oil into empty wok, add cumin seeds and chiles and stir-fry a few seconds until cumin seeds start to pop. Press chiles against sides of wok to char their skins.

Step 4 Add scallions and stir-fry 1 minute. Then return lamb to wok and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes more until lamb is cooked through. Turn off heat, sprinkle with salt and drops of sesame oil, and serve immediately.

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