When I visited Ukraine last summer, I found the food to be mostly ho hum: some nice soups and dumplings, but nothing really memorable. The exception was an amazing meal at a Georgian restaurant that I took my friends on a rather extensive tour of Kiev to find. By the time we were passing the crumbling abandoned parking lot part of town, I think some of them were rethinking their committment to food discovery, but hey, I got to test out my crappy high school Russian asking directions. And besides, don’t the best meals always require getting lost in a strange city? So, we found the restaurant eventually, and were confronted by an extensive and mostly incomprehensible menu. They kind of had an English version, but many of the translations were less than helpful and the place wasn’t really set up for tourists. Nonetheless, the meal was fantastic: kidney bean with walnut sauce, khachapuri, which is delicious cheese-stuffed bread, aubergine salad with fresh cheese, and a range of succulent grilled meats. Unlike the Ukrainian food, which was too plain for my tastes, Georgian cuisine has strong echoes of Persia and Turkey, with its use of nuts, vinegar, fruit and spices. My favourite plate was pork stuffed with pomegranate, garlic and onion and served with a thick pomegranate sauce. Everyone at the table kept going back to the jug of that sauce, pouring it over everything. Even almost a year later, I still remember it clearly.
So, when I was thinking about what to cook for Passover, those Georgian flavours came to mind as an appealing alternative to traditional East European fare. Obviously pork was out and pomegranate somehow didn’t seem a great match for brisket, so I decided on lamb shanks. I don’t know exactly what was in the restaurant version but I remembered the flavours pretty well and, after reading a few other Georgian recipes (for example in Claudia Roden’s book The Book of Jewish Food and online) and some blog posts on the cuisine, I put together my own version of the dish. If anyone has a more authentic version, I’d be happy to hear about it, but this version came out pretty well for a first attempt.
Pomegranate braised lamb shanks
- 6 lamb shanks
- 2 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 and 1/2 tbsp hot paprika
- 1/2 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds, ground
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for cooking
- 2 medium onions, sliced
- 2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
- 1 cup red wine
- a head of garlic, cloves separated and lightly crushed
- seeds of 1/2 a pomegranate
Heat the oven to gas mark 4/350 F/180 C. Mix the coriander, paprikas, fenugreek, cumin and salt with the oil to make a paste and rub it all over the shanks. Leave to marinade for a couple of hours. Next, brown the shanks all over in a large ovenproof pot, using plenty of oil and being very careful not to burn the spices. Remove the meat to a plate.
In the same pot, sauté the onions until they are very soft and beginning to brown. Add the garlic cloves and fry for a minute till fragrant. Add the shanks back into the pot and pour in the pomegranate juice and wine. The liquid should come quite far up the meat but there should be room for more liquid, as the shanks will give out quite a bit of fat. Cover and put in the oven for 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours, turning occasionally.
Once cooked, put the shanks and liquid in separate containers and refrigerate overnight. (You don’t have to do this stage, but it does give the opportunity to remove a lot of the fat and makes the sauce better.) The next day, skim the solidified fat off the surface of the sauce and reduce it by about two thirds over high heat. You’ll know it’s done when it becomes glossy and thickens a little. Heat the shanks up in the sauce, turning often. Serve sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.