Braised lamb shanks, couscous make for a rustic dinner

Diane Rossen Worthington
Tribune Content Agency

Lamb shanks are perfect for a slow-cooked meal. They may be the toughest part of the lamb, but braising them slowly yields a tender, falling-off-the-bone result. The longer they cook, the more tender they become.

It’s important to brown the shanks first, so they take on a rich color and give extra flavor to the sauce. Once browned, vegetables and herbs are sauteed along with red wine and dried fruit for a slow braise. This is best prepared up to two days ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove the layer of fat before reheating.

This is one of those dishes that I crave when it’s cold outside and I am looking for cozy comfort. The couscous is my recommended accompaniment for a satisfying meal. I also like the toasted slivered almonds in the cooked couscous for a welcome crunch.

I always like to serve a similar wine that I used for cooking as the accompanying beverage. A full-bodied merlot will do the trick. Some crusty bread will be welcome to soak up any extra sauce.

Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks.

Braised Lamb Shanks

1/4 cup olive oil

6 (3/4 to 1 pound) lamb shanks

All-purpose flour for dusting

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 celery rib, finely chopped

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups dry red wine, preferably merlot

1/2 cup dried apricots

1 (9-ounce) container moist packaged prunes (sometimes called dried plums), cut into bite size pieces

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Dredge the lamb lightly with the flour and season it with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the lamb, in two batches, and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a large roasting pan.

Reduce the heat and add the remaining olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onion, celery, basil and thyme and saute for about 6 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook another minute.

Stir in the stock, wine, the apricots, prunes, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer. Pour sauce over the lamb in the roasting pan. Cover tightly with foil and place in oven. Cook the lamb until the meat is very tender and beginning to fall off the bones, about 2 hours. (Adjust the cooking time for larger or smaller lamb shanks).

Transfer the lamb to a platter and tent it with foil to keep warm. Pour the pan juices into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the sauce by 1/2 to make a thick sauce-like consistency, about 15 to 20 minutes on medium-high heat. Watch toward the end. Taste for seasoning.

Pour the sauce over the lamb. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately with couscous. Serves 6.

Per serving: 816 calories; 41 g fat (16 g saturated fat; 45 percent calories from fat); 48 g carbohydrates; 27 g sugar; 199 mg cholesterol; 504 mg sodium; 59 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Couscous with Leeks and Currants

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 leeks, cleaned and light green and white part only, finely chopped

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups quick cooking couscous

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast the almonds in a skillet on medium heat, tossing to evenly brown for about 3 minutes. Watch carefully as they burn quickly. Reserve.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat and saute the leeks until nicely softened and lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Add the couscous, stir and cover. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

Add the almonds, lemon zest, parsley, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning. Spoon into a serving dish and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Per serving: 252 calories; 6 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 21 percent calories from fat); 41 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 10 mg cholesterol; 109 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 3 g fiber.