Braised Lamb Shanks With Olives And Apricots is one of the most flavorful and aromatic lamb dishes I’ve ever prepared thanks to the wonderful spice blend known as ras el hanout, which is Arabic for “top of the shop”. If you walked into the shop of a Moroccan or North African spice merchant and asked for a blend of his best spices, he would sell you ras el hanout. The blend has a pungent aroma and flavor from spices such as cardamom, cayenne, coriander, cumin, paprika, peppercorns and turmeric with a little sweetness from spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Each spice merchant’s version will be different from shop to shop and can be created with up to as many as one hundred spices, some perhaps being quite exotic.
In my recipe, lamb shanks are slowly braised with a mixture of vegetables, olives, apricots and spices until the meat is almost falling off the bone. Over the course of several hours, the succulent lamb becomes tender and a sweet, savory sauce is created from the olives, apricots, vegetables and spices in the pot.
Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks With Olives And Apricots
Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.
- 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 lamb shanks (figure 1 shank a person unless they are very large)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 piece of ginger (about 2 inches), peeled and grated
- 3 Tbsp. ras el hanout*, a traditional North African spice mix available from ethnic stores and some grocery stores
- 2 tsp. harissa, sriracha or other hot pepper sauce
- 1 tsp. cumin
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
- 2 c. chicken stock
- 8 or more dried apricots, sliced
- a handful of pitted green olives
- minced fresh mint or cilantro for garnish
- cooked couscous
*If you would like to make your own blend you might want to try my friend Vicki from Flavors of the Sun, recipe for Ras El Hanout.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides then remove to a plate. Add the onions and carrots and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic, ginger, the ras el hanout, harissa, cumin, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for a minute. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and stir. Add the shanks back in the pot. (The shanks should be submerged in the liquid halfway, if not add some water.) Cover the pot and simmer on the cooktop, turning the lamb about halfway through the cooking, for about 2 to 3 hours (depending on the size of the shanks) or until the meat is tender and sauce is thickened. At this point, you may want to skim off any accumulated fat that has risen to the top. Add the apricots and olives and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the apricots are soft. To serve, place some couscous in a bowl, top with a shank, spoon some sauce on top and garnish with some chopped mint.
You may have had a similar dish in a Moroccan restaurant where it might have been prepared and served in a tagine, which is a glazed clay pot with a conical shaped lid. The word tagine not only refers to the cooking vessel but also to the food cooked in this pot. A tagine of lamb, chicken or even vegetables can be cooked with a combination of dried prunes, apricots, figs, raisins, olives, salted lemons, sweet potatoes, chickpeas or nuts and herbs such as mint and cilantro. Traditional spices that are used in the cooking are ground cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cumin, turmeric, paprika, pepper, as well as the famous spice blend ras el hanout. While cooking a recipe such as this in a tagine makes for a great presentation is certainly isn’t necessary, a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven works perfectly.
I do hope you will try the braised lamb shanks with olives and apricots, perhaps at your next dinner party. I believe a Moroccan style recipe like this is perfect to serve since the lamb shanks look dramatic, the dish is flavorful and yet the meal is very simple and can be prepared a day in advance which makes for easy entertaining.