What’s cooking today: KwaZulu-Natal lamb biryani

What’s cooking today: KwaZulu-Natal lamb biryani
Tony Jackman’s KwaZulu-Natal biryani. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

There’s little better, for the spicy palate, than a good and simple lamb biryani. It’s even delicious when eaten cold the next day.

We hot-footed it to a local shop full of spicy delights while in Pietermaritzburg, coming home with a kilogram of best masala, a bag of soomph (ground fennel seeds), dried curry leaves, star anise, quills of cinnamon, and sundry other delights.

Spice shops make biryani easy (if you’re wondering, breyani is used in the Cape, biryani in KZN, but it’s pretty much the same thing). They sell little 100g plastic bags of what they call “biryani mix” which contain many bay leaves, a load of whole fennel (soomph) seeds, plenty of cassia bark, a few whole star anise, a few cardamom pods, and four or five cloves. You could of course assemble all of the former yourself.

But you also need good masala, so the best plan is to go to a local spice shop if you have one and ask them to mix it for you, or buy one of the commercial mixes if there’s no other option.

The masala we bought at Gorima’s in Liberty Mall did not include garlic, so that can be added (just use dried crushed garlic, as generously as you like). But ask your spice shop expert what is, and isn’t, in it. Store it in a jar (such as Consol) with a tight-fitting lid and keep it in the dark in a cupboard.

You do get much fancier biryanis than this, of course. A royal biryani is layered and topped with fried onions, scented with saffron. But this is just a simple week-night version to do justice to that pack of biryani mix.

(Serves 4)


1 large onion, chopped

2 Tbsp cooking oil

100 g Biryani mix

Water, to cover

2 heaped Tbsp masala

1 x 400 g can chopped tomatoes

Salt, generously

1 kg lamb knuckles

1 cup basmati rice

Coriander, chopped, for garnish


The rest is easy, so easy. No browning of meat is needed.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot and add the onion. Cook gently until softened, two or three minutes.

Now add the meat, the contents of the packet of biryani mix, cold water to cover, two heaped Tbsp good masala and the can of chopped tomatoes, salt well and stir.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the meat is tender, about three hours.

Now add the rice, stir, return to a simmer and cook for about half an hour more. Fish out the bay leaves and hard spices before serving. Serve garnished with chopped coriander. DM

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed on wares by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


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