Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lamb Shanks A La Northern Africa!

I bought a great little cook book about 6 years ago called HOME FOOD. I have since bought at least 4 more copies for gifts to friends, and have lent it out for months at a time. Everyone who opens it finds at least one new favourite recipe. One of my favourites is Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas. That name is misleading in that it has many more interesting ingredients than that. Cinnamon sticks, green olives, and harissa paste being the most unusual combination I had run into in a while. How could that work I thought at first, but I was brave, and gave it a whirl. One mouthful and I was hooked. Now I make it almost every time Lamb Shanks find their way home with me. They used to be a budget cut at 50 cents each when I first started cooking them, now look at the price! Ohh well, worth it for the flavour.

Harissa hails from Northern Africa, and the combination of Lamb and Chickpeas is common in Moroccan dishes. I am sure it is usually served with cous cous, rice, or some other grain, but it works especially well with creamy mash. That's what we are doing this evening.

I have never actually found harissa paste in any of the usual places. The closest I have ever got was a paprika paste intended for Hungarian cuisine. Most likely I haven't really tried hard enough. :) I normally just use a half quantity of chilli paste, but today I thought it would be a great opportunity to make some harissa of my own. I looked at a few (dozen) recipes for harissa paste, came up with the following recipe, including items that I already had. Surely not very authentic, but close by my reckoning.

Harissa Paste

You will need:

12-16 chillis, grilled, I used half birds eyes, half long reds
1/2 capsicum, grilled, skin removed (I only had green, but red would be better)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp garam masala (I used a spice mix that I had made the night before it was pretty much equal parts: cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, cumin, all spice, coriander seeds, black pepper.)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tomato, skinned and chopped
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp chilli sauce (ABC brand)
2 tbsp water

I started by grilling the chillis and capsicum, and then peeling the capsicum, and chopping it roughly. Then fried the cumin and caraway seeds over medium heat in the olive oil until fragrant. Add the onion and cooked until it was softened, then added the garam masala, and paprika. Stirred that a bit until fragrant, then added the garlic, tomato, chillis and capsicum. Dropped the heat down to low, and cooked covered until the moisture started coming out of the vegetables, stirring frequently. Then I added the vinegar, tomato paste, chilli sauce and water, brought it to a simmer, and cooked uncovered for 20 minutes until thick and saucy. Then I processed until smooth. Voila, harissa paste! It needs to be stored in the fridge, under a layer of oil.

So now to the main event. As I said a firm favourite around here, and shockingly simple really.

Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

You will need:
1 tbsp olive oil
4 lamb shanks
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 tsp crushed garlic
1/2 tbsp harissa paste (be gentle, you can add more later, to taste)
1/2 cinnamon stick (I've made it with ground cinnamon before, but usually only 1/4 tsp)
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
pepper, to taste
1 400g can crushed tomatoes
1 300g can chickpeas (you can used dried then rehydrated chickpeas if you like)
50g-100g green olives (best to use Sicilian olives with seeds in)
1/4 tsp lemon rind, finely grated
1 tbsp mint, finely chopped

Heat olive oil and brown lamb shanks over medium heat. Get a good overall browning happening, it is important to the end product. Add onion and garlic, and stir around. Cook until onion is slightly softened. Add harissa, cinnamon stick, stock cube and pepper. Stir to distribute, then add tomatoes, and enough water to almost cover the shanks. Cover, bring to the boil, and lower heat to a simmer, cook for 50 minutes.

Add chickpeas, olives and lemon rind to pot, and stir gently to distribute. Season with salt to taste, and continue cooking lid slightly ajar for 30 minutes. The lamb should be meltingly tender by this stage. If not, continue cooking checking regularly until it is! Remove any oil from the top of the sauce, and then stir in the mint. Serve over your preferred carb.

So with a scoop of tasty 'old' potato mash, and a radicchio, green bean, and apple salad, that's Tuesday night done. Now to think of some other likely ways to finish off the harissa......


  1. This looks delicous!
    Had never even heard of Harissa paste before.
    Will give this a go for sure!

  2. You should, it is sublime! Have fun cooking it. :)