From Gail's Kitchen

Fall and winter are my favourite seasons for cooking. Although I’m told I’m a top-notch griller, it’s the stews and braises that really get my creative culinary juices flowing. This recipe looks a bit intimidating because of the long list of ingredients, but it’s just a lot of measuring; technically, it’s quick and easy and gives the appearance that you spent hours cooking – which you did, but don’t tell your guests that the oven did most of the work for you. I served this recently at a small dinner party, alongside a big bowl of couscous with assorted root vegetables and cabbage that I’d simmered in spiced-up chicken broth. Our guests adored the meltingly tender Ontario lamb smothered in Moroccan-inspired flavours. It’s sure to be a winner in your home, as well.

Makes 6 servings

6 Ontario lamb shanks (3/4-lb to 1-lb each)
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more if needed
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp grapeseed oil
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp each ground cayenne and dried thyme
1/4 tsp each ground cardamom, ground cloves, ground ginger, freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 large can (28 oz/796 mL) whole tomatoes
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1/3 cup dried red lentils
1 1/4 cups pitted prunes
1 tsp dried juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)
2 bay leaves

Dry the lamb shanks. Sprinkle the shanks on all sides with salt and pepper. In an enamelled cast iron or stainless steel Dutch oven (or a large sauté pan), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Cook three of the shanks until deeply browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove the shanks to a large plate. Repeat with the remaining shanks, lowering the heat a bit if necessary to prevent scorching. Spoon out all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, thyme, cardamom, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon stick (if using) and cook for 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes with all their juices, the broth, lentils, prunes, juniper berries (if using) and bay leaves. Stir well to combine, lightly breaking up the tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Add the shanks and any juices to the Dutch oven, spooning over some of the liquid mixture. (If using a sauté pan, transfer the contents of the sauté pan and the shanks to a roasting or braising pan large enough to hold the shanks in a single layer.) Cover tightly with the pot’s cover (or with aluminum foil). Bake in a 325º F oven until the lamb is fork tender, about 2 hours.

Remove the lamb shanks to a serving platter. Discard the bay leaves. Spoon off any surface fat from the sauce and stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Spoon some of the sauce over the shanks and transfer the balance to a serving bowl for your guests to pass around and savour.