Sunday Night Dinner

butcher-paper-packageMy favorite Sunday night dinner is braised lamb shanks cooked with basmati rice or what we call “lamb and rice” at our house. It’s simple to prepare, truly, not because I have made it hundreds of times and could do it with my eyes closed.

It’s so fragrant and beautiful when finished; a plume of aromatic steam floats above the shank that’s covered with random pieces of tomato and onion, sitting on a mound of tomato red colored long grain rice perfectly separated.

Calliope Athanus, my Greek grandmother made this dish. She taught my French mother, who taught me. There were always lamb shanks in our freezer growing up. The butcher at the A&P saved all of them for my mother-she bought them all. When the two of us grocery shopped she always repeated to me, “ it must be the front shanks”, the fore shank. “Watch out, they always want to sell you the rear shanks” -she would shake her head and say - “they just aren’t the same.” She told me this every single time.

My working mother would thaw them in her microwave - the only oven east of the Mississippi. Once thawed she quickly browned them on the stove in olive oil, added chopped onions and garlic, a tin of whole tomatoes, oregano and added water to barely cover the shanks. Sometimes my mother would let them cook on a gentle heat for an hour and half but mostly it was at full rolling boil with the cover on for 30-40 minutes.

lambshanks2Oddly, I do the same thing. In the summer it’s the microwave to thaw then at a fast boil because I am “starving” but in the winter with real free time I give them more respect. I slowly cook them in the oven for a couple of hours. Yes, I do prefer the texture of the slow cooked shanks more. I love to eat this meal.

As soon as the lamb shanks are tender, measure basmati rice into a clean braising pot-the size pot depends on how many shanks you have cooked. Arrange the shanks on top of the raw rice-leave a ½ inch space between them so they will cook evenly.

I plan on one cup of raw rice per person because everyone loves the rice as much as the lamb. Arrange the shanks on top and pour all the braising liquids over the top. Ideally, bake them at 325 degrees until the aroma fills your kitchen, 45 minutes. Turn off the oven heat and let them relax for another 15 minutes. We serve our lamb shanks with a large dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

It makes a simple, magical Sunday dinner!

Julie’s lamb shank

4 lamb fore shanks
Olive oil, enough to barely cover the bottom of the pot
1 1/2 cup chopped onions, 1/2 inch
3-4 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 cups whole canned tomatoes, crush with your hands
water to almost cover the shanks

Brown the shanks in olive oil on both sides. Add onions and garlic for 3 or 4 minutes. Add oregano-stir well. Add the crushed tomatoes and water. Simmer on the stove or in the oven until the shanks are tender-45 minutes. Don’t worry, it’s difficult to over cook them but don’t try.

Add rice to a clean high sided heavy pot-add 1cup raw rice per shank/person. Arrange lamb on top and carefully add the liquid over the top. Don’t burn yourself. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes and let rest for 15 minutes in the oven.


Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
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