I remember my first lamb and leek stir fry; it was with the very first leek I ever bought, inevitably out of curiosity. Through the week I used up all the vegetablesI bought except this leek with which I still didn’t have a clue what to do with. It found itself sitting in the fridge next to some thawed lamb being its only companion, and me in the kitchen tired and hungry. I figured the dinner has to be some sort of combination of the two, and it’s got to be quick!
It was pre-Google era and I couldn’t look up on the Internet. But I knew the combination of lamb, cumin and onion is very tasty, so replacing onion with its cousin leek might just work. It was just one of the dishes that you put together haphazardly, hoping it would work, and it did! I have since cooked many a lamb and leek stir-fry and also come to known similar ways of cooking leek in some Chinese regional cuisines (but how leek eluded me the whole time while I was in China was a mystery).
This is a quick and simple dish full of cumin’s smokiness, lamb’s roundness and leek’s sweetness. Lamb and leek need to be thinly sliced and stir fried separately. This is crucial for preserving the tenderness of the lamb and the texture of the leek. They are then cooked together at the final stage of cooking which allows them to lend their own beautiful flavours to each other.
The lamb: Stir-fried the lamb strips very quickly on high heat and remove from wok when it’s about 70% cooked, e.g. most of them have just changed color but still some still have pink bits visible. They will be cooked through later.
The leek: I think leek is one of the very few leafy vegetables that can withstand quite a bit of cooking, which is good news if you are not sure when it’s cooked. Stir fry the leek until it becomes soft; the sharpness starts to fades away and the sweetness starts to take over. It’s simply at its best.
The cumin: Add cumin after you add lamb. When I put cumin powder into the hot oil before there is anything else in the wok, it turns to burn and lose flavour. I like to add half of the cumin to lamb, the other half to the leek separately instead of adding it all at once. It seems to give a flavour with greater depth. My guess is cooking temperature and duration have effects on cumin’s flavour; adding it at two separate stages of cooking has at least doubled the chances of adding more characters to its aroma.
- 200g lamb, cut into strips
- 1 medium leek, cut out tough bits then slice
- 1 tbsp soy sauce, half for lamb, half for leek
- 2 tbsp oil, half for lamb, half for leek
- 2 tsp cumin powder, half for lamb, half for leek
Heat 1 tbsp oil in the wok, add leek and stir fry for 1 minute. Add ½ tbsp soy sauce, stir fry leek until soft. Add 1 tsp cumin, add lamb and stir fry until lamb is cooked through, about 60 seconds. Remove from heat and serve on rice.