chilli-cumin lamb skewers

Cumin isn’t really a spice you’d associate with Chinese cooking is it? However, head for the more Islamic districts of North West China and these cumintastic lamb skewers are all the rage. Sadly, I’ve never had the chance to check out the street food of Xinjiang, but I have spent many a belt-loosening evening in Chilli Cool, the Sichuanese hotspot in King’s Cross. There the skewers come fried and spice encrusted on a plate that’s practically scarlet with chillies.

I decided to make my own for a spot of Victoria Park BBQ action and I must say these really couldn’t be easier. Super nice with a hot and sour cucumber salad (diced and dressed in salt, garlic sizzled in sesame oil, sugar and rice vinegar) and crammed into toasted pitta, these were wolfed down the very minute they came off the heat and I only wish I’d made more.

The Sichuan peppercorns add that “ma la” hot, numbing and almost lemony back note which works gorgeously with the toasted cumin. You can get them in most Chinese shops or online. If you really can’t be bothered, just stick in a bit more chilli powder/paste and a load of black pepper- it won’t be the same of course but you’ll still be dead chuffed with the results. It’s important to toast and grind the cumin – you want that lamb properly infused. Like all the best hot-coal related treats, the longer you marinade the tastier the rewards (I held out for two days). If you don’t have access to a barbecue, you can always slide them under a hot grill. Either way, you’re guaranteed all manner of smoky, juicy, spicy fun times.


(makes four generous skewers)

500g lamb steaks hacked into skewerable hunks

skewers ( if wooden, soak in water for at least an hour)

For the dry spice mix

1 ½ tbsp dry roasted and ground cumin seeds

1 ½ tbsp dry roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns

2-3 tsp sea salt

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp ground fennel

½ -1 tsp chilli powder

For the wet mix

2 tsp sesame oil

1 ½ large red chillies, sliced roughly

2-3 large spring onions, cut roughly into chunks

2 tbsp Shaoxing wine

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp chilli bean paste

1 tbsp groundnut oil

4 cloves garlic, finely minced


  • Combine the ingredients for the dry marinade and coat the lamb chunks thoroughly.
  • Combine the ingredients for the wet marinade. Tip the contents of the dry into the wet and mix well.
  • Cover and leave overnight in the fridge or for a couple of days if you can.
  • Thread onto skewers. Fish out the chilli and spring onion chunks and alternate the bits of lamb with these.
  • Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side over or under a medium to fierce heat. You basically want these to be charred on the outside but still a little pink in the middle. Devour while hot. Regret not making more.


  1. These look divine Rej! Ever so good I cud almost grab them from my screen and its lunch time. *Groan* Will defo be trying this on a sunny weekend might even serve some snacks on the side with your blue cheese dip.

    • gastrogeek

      Thanks Maunika 🙂 Am really pleased you like them and I love your style – dipping them in blue cheese dressing sounds ever so naughty but nice!

  2. I’m really full after lunch and still I find myself drooling in front of the computer. I HAVE TO make these!

  3. Delicious – I can taste it now! Reminds me to get to work on a Xinjiang style one that I tried in Beijing. But boohoo, I have no outdoor grill…

    • gastrogeek

      Cheers Su-Lin I’d really love to try your recipe (we don’t have an outdoor grill either, but luckily you’re allowed BBQs in some of the parks around here)

      • You’re allowed bbqs in your local parks! I must move to where you are! (Can I set off fireworks too? ok, maybe not)

      • gastrogeek

        am pretty sure you’re allowed to in Victoria Park and also in London Fields where I spotted at least five different barbies last Sunday (they have a cracking fireworks display there too, although am guessing you have to be a professionally trained firework person for that – how do you train for such things I wonder)?!

  4. These look wicked! I’m currently in hot debate with a couple friends whether or not you can have bbqs in Victoria Park without risking getting thrown out with all your food – guess this settled it – bbq in the park it is!

    • gastrogeek

      Cheers H – I’m pretty sure you can (we’ve never been stopped anyway) I would maybe check first if you’re going to have a big one, just in case!!

  5. We’ve just got our first bbq on the balcony- these look like just the thing to christen it with. Have fond memories of some lamb, carrot and cumin chinese dumplings from a place I loved in Sydney. Think these will be a fine flavour substitute.

  6. Auuugh, love the smoke rising off the meaty goodness. Will you make a batch when I have a garden please?

    • gastrogeek

      definitely! So sad that you’re leaving East London – it just won’t be the same without you…

  7. Slurp…..droool……guuuug…..

    I am going to make these at the weekend, looks and sounds bloody delicious

  8. Planning a bbq this weekend and just saw this post. Yum! Lamb and cumin is such a good combo and I love the smoky, spicy mixture of flavours you’ve used – you can almost smell the picture. Thanks for another fab recipe!

    • gastrogeek

      well thank you little loaf! I wish I could bottle the smell, I really do….would love to hear how you get on and good luck with the bbq. We should be in for a gorgeous sunny weekend (she said hopefully!)

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  11. We use a similar recipe and include dried fengureek and mint as well as turmeric.
    It suits us nicely.
    Sprinkle some somak when cooked and on the plate.
    We like to finish the meal with our favourite Yemeni Matari coffee from The Tea and Coffee Emporium.
    Thanks for the post and the opportunity to comment.

  12. NickyB

    I made these last night – very good, I made a few tweaks. I added chunks of red pepper to the skewers and hiked up the red chilli content. I did the suggested cucumber salad but without the chilli, as a cooler. Thanks, lovely dish, very moreish

    • gastrogeek

      Thanks Nicky, so glad you enjoyed them. Your tweaks sound like great ones, will give them a go.

      • NickyB

        I’m making these again tonight for my parents – hoping they’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

      • gastrogeek

        Am SO pleased you’re a fan! Would love to hear what your folks think of them

      • NickyB

        Hahaha! My mum wants the recipe! She was practically licking her plate 🙂 Dad wolfed them too!

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