Holy Land, a Middle Eastern store that is a bit of a Minneapolis institution, is one of my regular sources of goat meat. From time to time I also purchase lamb shanks from them. Always very fairly priced, these shanks call out to be braised. Usually, I cook them slowly in a vaguely Italian style, with tomatoes and red wine and olives, and we eat them over polenta. Every once in a while I cook them the way I would cook goat in a North Indian style, cooked down slowly, with the meat falling off the bone in a rich, velvety gravy. This recipe, however, is not one from my regular repertoire. I improvised it last week, and as it came out rather well I am sharing it with you. It is a fairly simple preparation, not calling for overly esoteric ingredients for the non-South Asian cook, and after some initial fussiness it all but cooks itself.
- 4 lamb shanks, maybe 2.5 lbs total?
- 1 large red onion, sliced thinly
- 1 heaped tblspn’s worth of grated ginger
- 1 heaped tblspn’s worth of grated garlic
- 2-3 dried cassia leaves
- 5-6 pods green cardamom
- 4-5 cloves
- 1 large piece of cassia bark or cinnamon
- 1.5 tblspns coriander seeds
- 3/4 tblspn cumin seeds
- 1/2 tblsp black peppercorns
- 2-5 dried red chillies
- 1/2 tspn turmeric powder
- 1/2 lb small potatoes, peeled
- 2-3 cups stock or water
- Using a small, sharp knife (for example, this lethal Suisin), trim as much of the silvery membrane off the shanks as you can. Rinse and dry the shanks and set aside on a plate.
- Coarsely grind the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns and dried red chillies together.
- Sprinkle a few pinches of the ground spices over the shanks, heat some oil in an enameled cast iron pot (or similar) and brown the shanks on both sides (about 4-5 minutes on each side), sprinkling some salt over as well. Remove to a plate.
- Add the remaining whole spices to the same pan—adding more oil if necessary—and as they become fragrant add the onion and grated ginger and garlic.
- Saute the mixture, stirring frequently, till the onions begin to caramelize around the edges.
- Now add the rest of the ground spices and turmeric and saute over medium heat for a minute or so, taking care not to let the spices burn.
- Return the shanks to the pot and turn to coat well.
- Add the stock or water, bring to a simmer, cover the pot and cook over low heat till the meat is almost done.
- Once the meat seems like it is getting towards fork-tender add the potatoes, mix in, cover the pot again and cook till the potatoes are done (but not falling apart). Add more stock at this point, if necessary, to at least partially submerge the potatoes. The consistency of the final gravy should be easily pourable but not too thin.
- When the potatoes are done, taste and adjust for salt, take off heat and serve with steamed rice, pulao or parathas.
- As I said, this is an improvised recipe. Feel free to adjust the ratio of the coriander seeds and cumin, though I think it’s likely to be better with quite a bit more coriander seed than cumin.
- Similarly, depending on how hot your dried chillies are you might want to use more or less.
- My initial plan had been to add a cup or so of coconut milk right at the end but since it tasted very good as it was I didn’t follow through. Next time I might do that.
- And if I’d had curry leaves on hand I probably would have added them with the onions and ginger and garlic.
- You could make this with other cuts of lamb as well, but if you use shanks, don’t forget to suck the marrow out!