Besides my KitchenAid mixer, the workhorse of my kitchen — especially at this time of year — is my Dutch oven.
In bewitching cobalt and made by Le Creuset, it’s an investment that has paid off handsomely in the many satisfying soups and stews it has cooked slowly, evenly and nourishingly.
So I grabbed it immediately when I spied the recipe for “Spicy Aromatic Braised Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas” in the newest cookbook by chef, cooking school owner and Greek cuisine expert Diane Kochilas.
“My Greek Table: Authentic Flavors and Modern Home Cooking from My Kitchen to Yours” (St. Martin’s Press), of which I received a review copy, is all about the dishes that Kochilas cooks at home for friends and family, be they classics or innovations inspired by Mediterranean ingredients. There’s everything from “Whole Wheat Baklava Muffins” and “Greek-Style Tuna Melt” to “Artichoke Moussaka with Caramelized Onions and Feta” and “Ouzo-Glazed Chicken Wings.”
This lamb dish, originally from the islands of eastern Aegean, will require you to use your largest Dutch oven on hand, as six shanks take up quite a bit of real estate.
You can use canned chickpeas for ease. But if you have time, it’s worth the extra effort to cook your own from dried. They just have a nuttier taste and a more substantial toothsome texture.
After the chickpeas are cooked, they go into the Dutch oven with the lamb shanks, chopped canned tomatoes, white wine, chicken broth and aromatics including allspice, thyme and cinnamon. Adding a whole dried chile is optional, but it will add a lively back note of heat, softening and dissolving in the braising liquid to perfume everything.
Let it all braise in the oven for a couple of hours until the lamb gets super succulent.
This is one lusty dish — meaty, brothy and filling enough to warm you through and through on a winter’s night.
Meat and potatoes ain’t got nothing on meat and chickpeas.
Spicy Aromatic Braised Lamb Shanks
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, picked over for debris and rinsed, or 4 1/2 cups canned chickpeas
6 fresh or dried bay leaves (optional)
2 large onions: 1 left whole, 1 finely chopped (optional)
3/4 cup extra-virgin Greek olive oil, divided use
6 lamb shanks, about 1 pound each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 carrot, halved
2 celery stalks, very finely chopped
1 1/2 cups white wine or brandy
6 allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick
1 (3-inch) whole dried chile (optional)
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 1/2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes
Water or chicken broth
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
If using dried chickpeas, put them in a large bowl, add cold water to cover, and set aside at room temperature to soak overnight. Drain the chickpeas and place them in a large pot. Add water to cover by 3 inches, 2 bay leaves, and the whole onion. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the chickpeas are about two-thirds cooked. Skip this step if using canned chickpeas.
While the chickpeas cook, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large skillet or wide shallow pot, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil. Working in batches, sear the lamb shanks, turning them with kitchen tongs and transfer to a large ovenproof clay or enamel casserole dish with a lid. Repeat to brown the remaining shanks.
In the same pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil (if needed — there may be sufficient fat in the pan) over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery. Carefully pour in the wine or brandy and stir to deglaze the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, about 15 minutes.
When the chickpeas are done, drain them, discarding the bay leaves and onion. Whether using cooked or canned, place the chickpeas in the casserole, scattering them all around the shanks, and stir in the vegetables. Add the allspice, cinnamon stick, chile, thyme, tomatoes, and enough water or broth to barely cover the meat and chickpeas.
Cover and bake for about 2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the shanks and the chickpeas are tender. Check the liquid content during cooking, if there is not enough, add some more water or broth; if there is too much, remove the lid or covering about halfway through braising to allow it to evaporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Remove from the oven, pour in the remaining olive oil, and stir it gently into the chickpeas. Let rest for 30 minutes, covered. Serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley.
From “My Greek Table” by Diane Kochilas
Another Diane Kochilas Dish to Try: Northern Greek Braised Pork and Leeks