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
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.

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