11.03.2018

Spice is Nice

I love the flavors of Persian cuisine.

It is a very complex cuisine, with varied combinations of sweet, sour, savory, hot, floral, and earthy.

The flavor profile of one ingredient can be so different from others that I wonder how they will ever come together in a meal.

But they do, and they do it well.

These Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks are the perfect example of this. When I looked at the ingredients list, my first thought was “Taste explosion!”

But it illustrates how Persian food is not overpowering. All these unfamiliar combinations of diverse flavors come together to create a very warm, mellow, and subtle union with no one flavor standing out. It is one of the things I love about Persian cuisine.

I paired this with a Rhône Valley red called Vinsobres - a wine I didn’t know, but it worked beautifully with this dish. To read more, visit the Provence WineZine.

As winter looms for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, consider this dish to add some welcome warmth to your table.

The bonus: the aromas in your home during preparation will be incredible, whetting your appetite for all good things to come.

~ David

Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks 
Recipe by David Tanis, The New York Times 

4 meaty lamb shanks, about 4 pounds
salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
Juice of 2 limes, about 4 tablespoons (zest before juicing!)
3 teaspoons rosewater *
1 large onion, roughly chopped
zest of 1 fresh lime
zest of 1 orange, plus 1 tablespoon more for garnish
3 thyme sprigs
2 fresh bay leaves
6 cups hot chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
2 tablespoons roughly chopped mint


     * make sure you use rosewater and not rose extract

Trim any excess fat from lamb shanks and season generously with salt. Mix together the cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper and turmeric. Sprinkle evenly over shanks and rub into meat. Let sit at room temperature at least an hour, or wrap and refrigerate overnight, then bring to room temperature.

Place a deep, heavy pot over medium-high heat and add oil to a depth of 1/2 inch. When oil is hot, add 2 lamb shanks and fry until nicely browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside, then brown the 2 remaining shanks.

Meanwhile, put saffron in a small bowl with lime juice, 2 teaspoons rosewater and 1/2 cup warm water. Let steep for 10 minutes. Heat oven to 350°F/180°C.

Carefully remove all but 2 tablespoons oil from Dutch oven. Add chopped onion and cook over medium heat until softened and lightly colored, 8 to 10 minutes. Season onion with salt, then add lime zest, orange zest, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir in saffron mixture. Lay in the lamb shanks and add the broth. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and cover pot.

Transfer pot to oven and bake for about 1 1/2 hours, covered, until meat is tender and beginning to fall from the bone. Remove lamb shanks to a deep serving dish and keep warm. Strain braising juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing with a wooden spoon to obtain all the liquid (discard thyme, bay leaves and onions). Skim fat, then taste and add salt if necessary. Add 1 more teaspoon rosewater, if desired. Reheat strained juices and pour over lamb shanks. Combine parsley, mint and reserved orange zest and sprinkle over top.

Accompany with saffron basmati rice.

Serves 4.


34 comments:

  1. this is such a beautiful collection of ingredients. and i can only imagine how delicious those deep flavors are. love it.

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    1. Thanks, Valentina - I want to make them again just so the house will smell good again!

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  2. This will probably always be my favourite recipe from you . . . even before trying it ! I was lucky to find out many moons ago that Persian truly is one of the two top cuisines in the world. Elegance and style personified. The 'cake' spices added to the usual savoury collection. Love lamb, love shanks, cannot wait to try, our horrendous lamb prices notwithstanding . . .

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    1. “Elegance and style personified.” That is the perfect description, Eha. I didn’t realize your lamb prices were high... oddly, the lamb shanks here were the most affordable meat I have bought in years!

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  3. The dish looks delicious and the photos are gorgeous, as always David. I'm not familiar with Persian cuisine and this recipe looks like a great one to try with its list of ingredients and explosion of flavours. Yum!

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    1. You are so kind Ngeun! I love how there are so many cuisines out there to try. Laotian cuisine is one I would like to try, especially when I read about the dishes your Mum makes for you.

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  4. We were just at a lamb farm this day picking up lamb for an upcoming dinner party and while there we ordered a whole lamb. I now know how I wish to honor this lambs shanks. Thanks for showing me the way to Persia.

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    1. A while lamb, Ron? I am quite jealous! Once, many years ago, I split the cost of a whole lamb with a friend. We had so much fun finding different recipes for all the different parts. I can’t wait to read what you do with yours.

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  5. Everything you publish has it's place on my Pinterest boards ! Persian is one of my favourites :-) :-)Thank you !

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    1. Thanks, I love it when my posts get pinned. (it’s rare!)

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  6. Gorgeous photos and some of our favourite flavours!

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    1. Thanks, Carolyne! It would be fun to make these for you and Andrew sometime!

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  7. I can smell all the spices from here at my computer! I especially love cardamom. Thankfully, Australia has many cuts of lamb at the supermarket- not so many in the USA whenever I look. Some people don't like the 'gamey' taste of lamb, but not me- I'll eat that whole lamb shank, thank you very much!

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    1. Lamb is one of our favorite meats, too, Fran! And lucky that you have access to some of the world’s best!

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  8. I can smell the aroma of the different spices. Lamb shanks are some of my favorite food but I haven’t made them for a long time. It’s time!

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    1. I don’t make them often enough, either, Gerlinde!

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  9. This dish sounds exquisite with the bonus of such exotic flavors wafting through the house. The Vinsobres wine choice sounds perfect (or almost any Rhone Valley red!).

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    1. Thanks, Susan - it was a really good pairing. Hope you can get a bottle in NH!

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  10. This sounds unique and wonderful David. You know I have a leg of lamb that is quite small (far too small to roast like normal) and it may just be crying out to be tried in this...

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    1. This would be a great spice rub for that little leg of lamb you have, Inger!

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  11. Persian food is soo delicious! I love the various spices they use for yummy flavor! This recipe looks amazing, I love lamb!

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    1. Thanks, Kendra! After looking at your blog, I see one other love we have in common travel - it is the best way I can think to spend my time and money, whether traveling locally or abroad. I am glad you dropped in for a visit and that you like the recipe!

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  12. One of my husband's favorite meals is lamb shanks and I've made them lots of different ways. I'll have to order rose water online as I've looked for it here...then I can try your flavorful version.

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    1. It’s one of our favorites, too, but one we make for special occasions! If you end up with the Nielsen Massey rosewater, beware it is an extract and not water. Use much less than the recipe calls for!

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  13. David, what a beautiful plate of food! "All these unfamiliar combinations of diverse flavors come together to create a very warm, mellow, and subtle union with no one flavor standing out." That sounds like recipe perfection to me!

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  14. Boy, this does sound good!

    I've been meaning for some time now to learn more about Persian cuisine. Partially inspired by some Bon Appetit videos on YouTube, partially by that recent TV series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, partially by a friend of Persian ancestry, partially just curiosity about a kind an intriguing kind of cooking that seems familiar in some ways and unfamiliar in others.

    The thing is, I haven't really experienced good Persian cooking. The few restaurants I've tried have always disappointed, but I suspect it's been the restaurants rather than the cuisine itself. A trip to Iran is not in the cards so I guess the solution is trying my hand at it at home... And this might be a good way to start. Thank!

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    1. We just started watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Frank, and we love it. And we are sad it is only four episodes.

      Persian cuisine, like Indian cuisine, is very complex and uses many herbs and spices in such different ways from others. The use of dill, for example, is extraordinary. And it is almost the opposite of Italian cuisine, so beautiful in its few and simple ingredients. I hope you get to play around with these flavors soon!

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  15. That definitely is a taste explosion! I've always loved Persian food for their subtle combination of so many flavors that work so perfectly together, yet don't overwhelm. I also love how they mix savory and sweet in the same dish. Living in Dubai, we could get amazing Persian food as they have a very big population there. I definitely have to make these lamb shanks. My family would love them!

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    1. How wonderful to have lived where there was such a vibrant Persian community! Every time I meet a Persian student here at the University, I try to get their family recipes to try! Thanks for your kind comment, Kelly, and for stopping by!

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  16. My dad loves lamb. He's here every Thrus for dinner. Last week I made a leg of lamb, and I think I'll try this one this week. I have almost all of the ingredients already in my pantry. Just need the rosewater. (And of course the fresh things!) :-)

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    1. Valentina - as I have warned others, I will warn you! If you buy the Nielsen-Massey Rosewater, be aware that it is an extract and MUCH LESS is better! :) It is a wonderful product, just not what you but in Middle Eastern groceries!

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  17. I never dared to use rosewater with lamb but it sounds delicious... I really need to try :)

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