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Braised Moroccan Lamb Shanks with French Lentils

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In continuation with my Wine and Cheese Detox and the BAFLC, I spent the better part of my Sunday braising Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate, and I’m certainly not sorry. As the sweet smells of cinnamon and pomegranate filled my apartment, I knew I was in store for something delicious. Not to mention, I was able to use my newly purchased ceramic Dutch oven!

Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate (serves 4)

  • 1 tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 TB cornstarch
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 large leek, white and light-green parts only, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  •  cups pomegranate juice
  •  cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • ¼ cup mint leaves

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I paired the lamb shanks with Confetti Lentils, per BAFLC suggestion. They were pretty easy to prepare as long as you have a good box shredder or shredding disc for a food processor. You should be able to find French lentils at most specialty grocery stores, but the only place I could find celery root was at Whole Foods. Turns out, it’s a pretty cool vegetable!

Confetti Lentils (serves 4)

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 medium celery root, peeled and shredded
  • 1 medium onion, shredded 
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more
  •  cups French green lentils

All in all, the lamb takes about 5 hours to prepare so it’s the perfect Sunday roast. Trim the shanks of any excess thick fat (white opaque, rough parts) but do not remove the iridescent membrane, which holds the meat together. Blend together coriander, cumin, fennel seeds, salt and pepper and rub all sides of the shanks with the spice mixture, then let rest for 30 minutes and up to overnight.

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About 30 minutes before you plan to cook the shanks, dredge in cornstarch, covering all sides of the shank. Preheat the oven to 350, then heat 2 TB olive oil in a large dutch oven. Sear the lamb shanks on all sides until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish then add onion, carrot and leek to the pot and cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits that have accumulated, for 1 minute. Add cinnamon and thyme and pour in pomegranate juice and chicken stock. Scrape pan again, then bring mixture to a simmer. Return shanks to pan and season with kosher salt and black pepper.

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Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise 1½ hours, then check liquid level, making sure there is at least 1″ stock in pan; if not, add water or stock to bring it up to that mark. Continue braising until meat is completely tender and falling off the bone, about 2½ hours.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb shanks to a plate. Discard thyme and cinnamon stick. To serve, bring remaining braising liquid to a simmer, adding more water or stock if needed. Add the meat back to the sauce and cook until warmed through, if needed. Serve lamb pieces off the bone with some sauce and top with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves.

Prepare the lentils when there is about 30 minutes left to the lamb. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium. Add carrots, celery root, onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in lentils. Pour in 3¾ cups of boiling water and bring to a boil once more. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender but retain their shape, about 25 minutes. Season with more salt, if desired. (Do not drain excess liquid; lentils remain tender better if stored in their cooking liquid.) To serve, use a slotted spoon or mesh strainer.

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The lamb was so flavorful and had the perfect balance of sweet and savory, and the yummy lentils soaked up all of the delicious sauce from the braise. I have tons of leftover lentils and plan to add them to a salad some time this week. Although the lamb took a while to cook (as all braised meats do), it was totally worth it and I know it will taste even better over the next few days. This one is definitely a repeat – next time with a wine pairing!

Collaborative Chicken & Dumplings

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Something wonderful happened a month ago; Annie P. moved into the apartment that I share with KDD, becoming our new roommate! The transition has been pretty smooth, and I am very pleased with the increase in collaborative cooking in the kitchen. Since Annie P. and I have lived together, we’ve made roasted pork loin with lemon-garlic broccolini, Brussels sprouts and ham pizza, and most recently, chicken and dumplings with mushrooms.

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The chicken and dumplings recipe was featured on the February 2014 cover of Bon Appetit. When I first read the recipe, I flagged it but figured it would be something which I would have to devote extra time because it involved a minor amount of “baking” – which I define as anything that uses baking powder, something I tend to avoid at all costs. But after a closer look, I realized the dumpling assembly was in fact much easier than I originally perceived. Still, I was happy to assign this part of the recipe to Annie P. while I worked to prepare the stew. We made only a few changes to the original recipe, but the most relevant was the cooking of the dumplings in the actual broth – which I highly recommend.

Chicken Stew with Mushrooms (serves 4-6)

  • 1/3 lb bacon, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 whole chicken legs, with bone and skin
  • 1 lb mixed mushrooms (i.e. crimini, porcini, shiitake, maitake, oyster)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper

Dumplings (makes 10)

  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (don’t skimp on this!)
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup low fat milk
  • zest of 1/2 lemon

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In a large Dutch oven (6-8 quarts), crisp the bacon over a medium flame. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate; once cooled, transfer to a small dish. Meanwhile, place flour in a shallow bowl. Season chicken legs with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Cook chicken, skin side down, in the same pot over medium heat until skins are deep golden brown and crisp (do not turn) – about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

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Cook the mushrooms in the same pot, seasoning with salt and pepper and stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl. Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook until onion is soft and translucent, about 6 minutes.

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Add wine to the pot and simmer, until reduced by half – about 5 minutes. Add chicken, bacon, thyme, bay leaves and broth, then season with salt and pepper. If you can’t fit all the broth, add enough to fill the pot (you can add the rest 2/3 of the way through the cook time). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and gently simmer partially covered for 2 hours. Check the stew every 20 minutes to skim off the layer of fat that settles on the surface.

Beginning the stew

Beginning the stew

The stew after the mushrooms are added

The stew after the mushrooms are added

Meanwhile, prepare the dumpling batter. Whisk flour, baking powder, nutmeg, pepper, salt and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Whisk in eggs and milk (batter will be slightly lumpy), and set aside.

After the stew has cooked, add the mushrooms and simmer until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken legs from the pot and plate in shallow bowls. Using two spoons, drop small spoonfuls of dumpling batter into the broth. Cook for 5 minutes on simmer, turning the dumplings halfway through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer dumplings to the bowls with chicken, then use a ladle to add the remaining stew to the bowl (be careful not to include any bay leaves or thyme sprigs).

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Cooking the dumplings in the broth

Turning the dumplings

Turning the dumplings

The flavors in this stew were rich and earthy and the layers of ingredients melded together perfectly, probably thanks to the base of bacon fat used to crisp the chicken and sauté the vegetables. The texture of the dumplings was almost like a soft scone. I loved the addition of lemon zest to the batter, as it provided a tangy freshness to the dish that complemented the savoriness.

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The final dish

As great as the stew was the night I made it, the leftovers the next day were even better! I particularly liked the softer texture of the dumplings after the batter had rested in the refrigerator overnight. So I highly recommend making enough stew to give yourself some leftovers for dinner the next night. Here are some tips on how I prepared and stored my leftover stew: Before transferring any extra stew to a container, remove and shred any remaining chicken from the bone into the broth. Discard the bones, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Store leftover dumpling batter in a separate container. Reheat in a pot and add 1-2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth and a few fresh thyme sprigs; simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Cook the dumplings in the broth for five minutes, turning halfway through. Yum all over again!

Pair this dish with an earthy 2011 Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills, such as Melville 2011 Estate Pinot Noir or MacPhail 2011 Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir. The cool ocean breeze in the Sta. Rita Hills combined with the rocky soil makes this is a great region for fuller-bodied Pinot Noir, and the 2011 vintage shows bold flavors of coca-cola, vanilla, nutmeg and blueberry, which will nicely compliment the earthy tones in the stew.

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