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Lamb Shanks and Rice (Roz be-dfeen)

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Recipe By Joumana Accad

This is the quintessential comfort dish in the Middle East. Its preparation varies by region, but it always elicits delight when presented on the dinner table. It consists of lamb shanks, cooked until they fall off the bone, in a broth flavored with cumin, allspice, and cinnamon. The shanks are served with rice, chickpeas, and pearl onions. It is a one-pot meal.

Rice is often substituted with bulgur (the coarse type) or roasted green wheat (freekeh). Craisins and nuts can be added to make it more festive, however this step is not traditional and can be omitted.

This dish is served with a bowl of yogurt on the side. A dollop of yogurt helps balance the warm richness of the rice and lamb.

It can be prepared ahead, which makes it ideal for a party. It can also be made simply with lamb pieces, minus the bones; bones, however, add flavor to the broth and, by extension, to the rice. If lamb shanks are not available, substitute stewing beef and some beef bones and brown the bones to add flavor to the resulting broth. This dish can be also made with chicken. A vegan version could be made as well by simply omitting the meat and switching to a vegetable broth.

Makes 8 servings


  • 1½ pound of lamb shanks, either with the bone or boneless (adding bones to the dish gives more flavor to the broth)
  • 1 pound of pearl or cipollini onions
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1½ cups of basmati or long-grain rice, soaked in warm water with a dash of salt until the shanks cook
  • 1 can of chickpeas (or ½ cup of dry chickpeas, soaked in water overnight with ½ teaspoon of baking soda)
  • ½ cup of Craisins (optional)
  • ¼ cup of pine nuts (optional)
  • ¼ cup of slivered almonds (optional)
  • Clarified butter or olive oil, as needed
  • 6 cups of water
  • Spices:
    • 1 tablespoon of cumin
    • 1½ teaspoon of salt
    • ½ teaspoon of white or black pepper (can substitute 1½ teaspoon of seven-spice, 1 teaspoon of allspice, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon)


    1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil (or clarified butter) and brown the shanks from all sides. Remove the shanks to a plate. Fry the chopped onions until golden in the same pot. Place the shanks back in the pot; sprinkle with all the spices.
    2. Add to the pot 6 cups of boiling water and simmer the shanks gently until tender, about one hour. If you are using dry chickpeas that have soaked overnight, rinse them and drain them and add them to the shanks now. The chickpeas will cook with the meat.
    3. In a skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil (or clarified butter) and brown the pearl or cipollini onions. Remove the onions and set aside. Add the almonds and pine nuts and toast them in the same skillet. Set aside.
    4. To cook the rice: Measure the broth. If you have too much, let it boil down, if too little, add some water. (Just empty the broth into a measuring cup). You need no more than 3 cups of broth for rice or bulgur (or roasted green wheat if using).
    5. Drain the rice and add to the lamb shanks in the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes until the rice has absorbed the broth and the lamb shanks are falling off the bone. If using canned chickpeas, add them along with the rice. Ten minutes before the end of cooking, add the Craisins (if using) and the pearl onions to the pot. Serve the dish with a garnish of toasted nuts and a bowl of yogurt.

Reminder: The ingredients in a recipe determine if it should be eaten every day, some days, or on special occasions. It's up to you and you doctor to determine what can be part of a healthy diet for you and any special needs you may have.

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Photo by Flicker user mollycakes / CC BY-NC 2.0

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