The book: One Good Dish, by David Tanis (Artisan, $25.95)
The recipe: Wok-fried lamb with cumin and chiles
Why I tried it: I vaguely remembered that the lamb and cumin stir-fry, as odd as it sounds, is a traditional recipe from northwest China, the bit near Mongolia, where they understand cold weather. All year I’d be eating lamb and cumin in more of a Middle Eastern context, and something about the thought of all those red chilies, right in the middle of a New England winter, just made my heart sing.
Why I loved it: The cumin and the ginger conspire to cut the richness and bring out the sweetness of the lamb, and if you use a hot enough flame you can get that wonderful, seared-in velvety effect from the cornstarch clinging to the surface of the tiny lamb slivers. Myself, I love sucking – carefully – on the dried red chiles afterward, for that fruity afterburn, but I understand that isn’t normal.
Estimated preparation time: Less than 45 minutes. It all depends how quick you are at reducing a hunk of lamb to 1/4″ slivers. If you have the presence of mind ahead of time to partly freeze the meat - so that it’s neither liverishly wobbly nor icicle-solid – then it goes a lot faster.
Wok-Fried Lamb with Cumin
Serves “3 or 4″ (honestly? 2.)
1 pound boneless lean lamb, cut into strips ¼ inch wide and 1½ inches long
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
12 small dried red chile peppers, or more if desired
A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine julienne
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
6 scallions, thinly slivered
Put the lamb in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the cornstarch. Mix with your fingers to combine.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or wide cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and dried chiles. When they begin to sizzle, add the lamb, ginger, and garlic, toss well to coat the lamb, and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until the lamb is slightly browned. Add the sesame oil, cilantro, and scallions and transfer to a serving dish.
Excerpted from One Good Dish by David Tanis (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Gentl & Hyers.