Besides the simanim seder, which is traditional for preparing Rosh Hashanah, I also try to incorporate foods from the seven kinds, or Shivat Haminim: wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive (oil) and date (honey). . This braised lamb recipe uses date syrup – or silan – which is what the Israelites historically called honey. (When we call Israel the land of milk and honey, we mean date honey, not bee honey.)
I also add pomegranate syrup – which is a reduction of pomegranate juice with no added sugar – into the marinade. Pomegranate syrup is readily available in Kosher and Middle Eastern markets and online. Pomegranate mixed with silan gives a nice sweet and sour flavor. Saffron, cumin, cinnamon and mint complete the fragrant marinade.
I suggest letting the lamb sit in the marinade for at least three hours. If you have the time and space in the fridge, you can definitely let it sit overnight. I love meals like this for the holidays because the meat doesn’t dry out, so it’s easy to make ahead and reheat just before the holiday meal. I serve it on a plate of steamed couscous.
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Braised lamb shank with pomegranate and dates
For 4 to 6 people
4 to 6 lamb shanks or 2 pounds cubed lamb
¾ cup (6 ounces) pomegranate syrup
½ cup silan (date honey)
3 tablespoons avocado or canola oil for marinade
3 tablespoons avocado or canola oil to brown the lamb
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 large carrots, cut into large chunks
2 teaspoons of cumin
2 teaspoons dried mint
1.5 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
1 pinch of saffron threads
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup of water
2 tablespoons lightly toasted slivered almonds, optional
Torn fresh mint leaves and pomegranate arils for garnish
Whisk together the pomegranate syrup, silan, salt, pepper, cumin, dried mint, red pepper flakes and saffron for the marinade.
Pour over lamb and refrigerate for at least three hours. No need to make enough marinade to completely cover the meat; Instead, turn the meat several times so it has a chance to soak up the flavors. When braising, too much liquid can work against you and won’t reduce very well. The pomegranate syrup acts as an acid and softens the meat, while the silan adds sweetness to the dish.
Set your oven to 300 F and place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Cut the onion into large cubes, mince the garlic and peel and cut the carrots.
Heat the additional 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. I recommend a dutch oven or an enamel style pot with a lid for this recipe.
Add the onion, stirring occasionally and let soften for about 10 minutes before adding the garlic.
Stir continuously for 30 seconds – enough time to release the flavor of the garlic without burning it.
Using tongs, place the lamb shanks from the marinade and add them to the pan to brown for 1-2 minutes on each side. If using lamb cubes, add all the meat at once, mix with the onions to brown, turning several times. If your pan is smaller, you may need to brown the lamb shanks in 2-3 batches.
Add the carrots around the lamb before pouring the marinade over the meat. I use a rubber spatula to remove every last kernel from the bowl.
Add ½ cup of water to the pan.
Cover and bake for 2 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. If using boneless lamb cubes, test the meat with a fork after about 1.5 hours.
Remove the cinnamon stick and let stand 15 minutes, uncovered, before serving.
I arrange the meat on a couscous platter before serving. Garnish with fresh mint leaves, pomegranate arils and toasted slivered almonds. Enjoy! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.