Long-simmering lamb for waning fall days – The Denver Post

It’s chilly. I want a fire in the hearth and a simmering pot of stew, or a reasonable facsimile thereof on the stove.

Indeed, braises and stews are foremost in my mind these days. That’s really all I want to cook and eat throughout the cold months. Anything from an Irish stew to a French beef Bourguignon suits my fancy. When lamb shanks came my way recently, I looked to Morocco for inspiration, so the shanks became a kind of tagine, cooked long and slowly to succulence.

To accompany the braised lamb, I chose a spiced carrot salad, a favorite standby of mine. I like to spoon it into a lettuce leaf for a first course or serve it as a side dish. Made with the freshest carrots, it always delights. Though most Moroccan salads are made with cooked vegetables, my version uses slivered raw carrots instead.

The lemony carrots taste lovely just as the recipe is written, perfumed with toasted cumin and coriander, a hint of garlic and a touch of cayenne. But the recipe is versatile. If you want to splash out, try adding a pinch of cinnamon and a topping of fluffy chopped cilantro and thinly sliced jalapeño. Or add crumbled feta and olives. But for this menu, I like the recipe as is, served on the same plate with the lamb and all its juices.

My method for the lamb is a bit of a project when it comes to time, but it’s not complicated and, for the most part, it cooks itself while you wait. I first simmer the shanks in lightly salted water. Then, saffron-stained softened onions form the base of the braise, along with a bit of tomato, paprika and dried apricots. After three hours, the lamb is fragrant and tender. Parsnips join the pot later, and chickpeas top the final product. (Take the time to soak and cook dried chickpeas, if you can. Using canned is easier, but freshly cooked chickpeas taste far better, and the drained cooking liquid makes a delicious vegetarian broth for a future soup.)

Since big lamb shanks can seem daunting, I remove the cooked meat from the bone and cut it into more manageable pieces. Though the chunks of parsnip almost resemble bones at first glance in the final dish, the tagine’s overall impression is sweet and golden, both visually and on the tongue. The intermingling of flavors feels magical, perfect for the season.

As with most braises, this one improves after a night in the fridge, giving the flavors time to deepen and meld. It makes great leftovers for the same reason. It’s fine to make it even a few days before serving.

For dessert, I craved a spicy ginger cake, as dense and dark as some kinds of English fruitcake I’ve sampled. And here, molasses, a slightly bitter sweetener, is key, giving the cake just the right character. Chopped dates, raisins and a good dose of black pepper are all in evidence, along with ginger and cinnamon. I guarantee, if you bet you can stop at one slice, you’ll lose the wager. But if you do manage some restraint, the cake is also delicious at breakfast or with a strong cup of tea anytime of day.

Lamb Shanks With Apricots and Chickpeas

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: About 3 1/2 hours


  • About 4 to 5 pounds lamb shanks (4 total)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated garlic (from 1 large clove)
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • Large pinch of saffron
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 pound dried apricots (1 generous cup)
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (slice any larger end pieces in half lengthwise)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems


1. Season lamb shanks generously with salt and pepper. Place in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Cover with 6 cups water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a low simmer and cook, covered with lid ajar, for 1 hour. Remove shanks and reserve cooking liquid. Wipe out the pan. (You may cook the lamb shanks in advance, even a day ahead.)

2. Set Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon garlic, bay leaf, saffron, tomato paste and paprika. Stir together and let sizzle for 1 minute, then add reserved lamb broth and bring to a boil. Add lamb shanks and apricots, cover with lid ajar and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, until meat is very tender, nearly falling off the bone.

3. Remove shanks and place on a cutting board to cool. Add parsnips to simmering broth, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Taste broth and adjust seasoning. If necessary, reduce over medium-high heat to concentrate cooking juices.

4. When shanks are cool enough to handle, remove the bones (use your hands). Cut the meat into large chunks and return to the pot to warm through. Transfer meat and sauce to a serving platter.

5. To finish, warm remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon garlic and let sizzle without browning, about 30 seconds. Add chickpeas and warm them through, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt, and toss with the chopped cilantro. Spoon chickpeas over lamb and sauce.

Carrot Salad With Cumin and Coriander

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 20 minutes


  • 1 pound medium carrots, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks or grated
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • Pinch of ground cayenne
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced preserved lemon (optional)
  • Whole mint leaves, for serving


1. Put carrots in a medium bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Leave to marinate for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish.

2. To serve, sprinkle with preserved lemon, if you like, and garnish with mint leaves.

Molasses Ginger Cake

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling


  • 8 tablespoons/113 grams unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups/256 grams all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup/118 milliliters unsulfured molasses
  • 1/2 cup/101 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup/145 grams golden raisins, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes and drained
  • 1/2 cup/72 grams pitted chopped dates
  • Whipped cream, for serving (optional)


1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line with parchment. Butter the parchment.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, ginger, baking powder, pepper and cinnamon. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together molasses, sugar and melted butter. Add eggs, and whisk well. Stir in raisins and dates.

4. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold the dry ingredients into wet ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. The batter will be stiff. Spread batter into prepared cake pan, smoothing the top.

5. Bake until a testing skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes.

6. Run a knife along the edge of the cake, and, once cooled, transfer to a serving platter. Slice into wedges and serve with whipped cream, if desired.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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