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Monday, February 8, 2010

Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Shanks

Valentine’s Day is pretty much a food-centric holiday. From candy hearts to candlelit dinners for two, it seems that wooing your honey with, well, honey – or other tasty ingredients – is a requisite part of the day.

Unfortunately, all too often eating out on Valentine’s Day means fighting every other happy couple in the vicinity for seats at your favorite restaurant, not to mention having to order off a more expensive prix fixe menu.

This year, light some candles, play some soft music, and stay in for dinner. Nothing says “I love you” like a home-cooked meal.

These Moroccan-spiced braised lamb shanks are the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner. Once the initial prep is done, the lamb braises slowly for three hours, relaxing in a delicately-spiced broth. Two hours later, toss in some butternut squash and pearl onions, and let cook for another hour.

Braising is a method beloved precisely for its hands-off approach. While the oven is working its magic, feel free to work your own – clean the house, get ready for the evening, or go for a long romantic walk with your love.

Additionally, low and slow cooking brings out the flavor in tougher, less expensive cuts of meat, which means you don’t have to splurge for the fussier rack of lamb.

Serve the lamb over Israeli couscous or brown rice, or – even easier – just pop a loaf of store-bought, foil-wrapped bread into the oven when the lamb comes out and warm for 5-10 minutes.

Don’t like butternut squash? Garbanzo beans or sweet potatoes would also pair well with the Moroccan spices, or leave out the accompaniments entirely and just focus on the lamb.

Spoon everything into one big bowl and grab two forks. Pull up a chair next to your sweetheart, open a nice bottle of wine or champagne, and enjoy the evening together.

You can always go out the following evening if you miss the restaurant ambience, but you definitely won’t miss the crowds.

These braised lamb shanks get more tender with time – just like your relationship.

Moroccan-spiced braised lamb shanks
Recipe by me, loosely inspired by this recipe and this one.
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • ¼ cup pearl onions, peeled
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 teaspoons chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine first seven ingredients in a small bowl. Rub mixture over lamb shanks. Heat one teaspoon oil in a large skillet. Brown the lamb shanks well on each side.

3. Add the lamb shanks to a large Dutch oven or oven-safe pot. Add the yellow onion halves, vegetable broth, and cinnamon stick, plus any leftover spice rub. Cover the pot and place in the oven.

4. After 2 hours of braising, add the cubed butternut squash and the pearl onions. Skim any oil from the surface of the liquid. Place the pot back into the oven, uncovered, for another hour.

5. After three hours total, remove the pot from the oven. Using tongs, place the lamb shanks, pearl onions, and half the butternut squash on a large platter. Cover with foil. Discard the yellow onion halves and the cinnamon stick. Let remaining liquid and squash sit until fat has separated out, about 10 minutes. Skim fat off the top. Heat remaining juices and squash over low heat. Stir in the cream and taste, adding salt if necessary. Puree the sauce with an immersion blender or in a stand blender to desired level of creaminess.

6. Place lamb and vegetables on a plate or in a large bowl. Add sauce, orange zest and cilantro. Grab two forks and enjoy with the one you love.

Makes two generous servings.

Note: Recipe is easily doubled or tripled for less intimate dinners.

Originally published in the Los Altos Town Crier.

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