Cumin Lamb

Terra Cotta Warrior is our benchmark for cumin lamb. It’s an excellent Shaanxi/Xi’an restaurant. It’s always packed and almost all of the patrons are Chinese (although the secret is out and non-Chinese people dot the crowd).

This cumin lamb recipe from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes tastes slightly different (cumin is more subtle, Sichuan-like heat instead of jalapeno heat), but it’s just as good for satisfying a cumin lamb fix.


  • 2 T cumin seeds
  • 1 T Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • ½–1 t chili flakes
  • 1 lb boneless lamb leg, thinly sliced
  • 2 T neutral oil
  • 2 C thinly sliced white or yellow onions
  • 1 C sliced scallion, whites and greens
  • 1 T sliced garlic
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 C roughly chopped cilantro


  1. Toast the cumin seeds and peppercorns in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pulse in a spice grinder until broken into pieces, but not finely ground. Mix the spices with the salt and chili flakes.
  2. Toss the meat in the spice mixture, making sure every piece gets a good, even dusting of the spices.
  3. Heat a very large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the oil, and when it emits wisps of smoke, add the onions and cook, tossing, until translucent around the edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Scoop the onions out of the wok and transfer to a bowl.
  4. Add the lamb and any residual spices to the pan. Cook, tossing, until the meat begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the scallions, garlic, soy sauce, and wine, and bring to a brisk simmer. Keep tossing to coat the lamb in the sauce. After 2 to 3 minutes, when the lamb is just cooked through and coated in sauce, return the onions to the pan and toss everything together. Remove from the heat and fold in the cilantro. Serve hot.


  • I was 1/2 T short on the cumin seeds, so I supplemented with 1/2 t ground cumin and 1/2 t ground coriander.
  • I used Sichuan chili powder for the chili flakes.
  • I substituted clear michiu for the Shaoxing wine.
  • I skipped toasting the cumin seeds and peppercorns in step 1 (they were fried in my extended cooking of the meat, see below).
  • Instead of translucent onions in step 3, I fried the onions for ~20 min to caramelize them like in the Sichuan pork ragu recipe. Translucent is how it’s done at Terra Cotta Warrior, but my daughter loves caramelized onions.
  • I trimmed the fat cap and silverskin from the lamb leg and cut the lamb into thin strips instead of slices. Terra Cotta Warrior uses really thin slices, so next time I will try using thin-sliced lamb meant for hot pot to save time on prep.
  • I cooked the lamb much longer than the 2 minutes they suggest in step 4. Lamb releases a lot of water, so I cooked it until the water evaporated and the lamb began to fry and brown in the residual oil and fat.
  • For a non-spicy version suitable for kids and people who can’t tolerate spice, omit the Sichuan peppercorns and the chili flakes. It still tastes good without the heat.