Looking to make something a little different this Easter? I’ve got a dish for you. These Vindaloo Braised Lamb Shanks feature lamb coated in a sauce inspired by the Goan classic slowed cooked for 3 hours until the meat is fall-apart tender. The lamb is served on a bed of creamy risotto studded with sweet peas and toasted cumin seeds and finished with a hefty dollop of Greek yogurt. Finally, the dish is garnished with julienned cucumber, mint, micro-greens, and thinly sliced red chiles. This meal is a nod to the traditional leg of lamb dinner and two Indian classics – vindaloo and raita. You can scale this meal up or down as your guest list demands and most of the actual cooking is blissfully hands-off. Sound good? Good. Let’s get into it.
Growing up my mom always served leg of lamb every Easter. I know this is a very common practice given the lamb’s Christian associations. But my family wasn’t overly religious. I honestly think lamb made it onto our table every April because that’s when it’s readily available and on special. And my mom has always loved lamb. Like mother, like daughter. Unfortunately, for me, my Easter table is considerably smaller than my mother’s. I also can’t attend my mother’s table because she lives in a different province, and my partner’s family, who do live in town, are Jewish. So yeah, not really an Easter crowd. And roasting a leg of lamb for two people seems, um, ridiculous. But I’ve found lamb shanks are the best way to get my roast lamb fix, without being saddled with an unmanageable amount of leftovers.
But if you can’t relate to my cooking for two conundrums, don’t worry, today’s Vindaloo Braised Lamb Shanks can be scaled up to your heart’s content. Just finalize your guest list and buy a shank per person. The only problem I could see arising, as you scale up this recipe, is pot and oven real estate. So before you settle on a menu, make sure you have the cookware to accommodate the number of shanks you’ll need. And maybe go with a make-ahead, no-bake, or stovetop heavy dessert. The shanks will dominate the oven for a good 3 hours, so make sure you give them the time and space they need.
Now, as with every dish I design with entertaining in mind, there are parts of this meal you can tackle ahead of time. Making the spice mix and Vindaloo paste is one of them. In fact, I would advise you to make the paste the day before, so you can coat the lamb shanks and let them sit for a good 24 hours.
You may have noticed from the photos that I use a combination of whole and ground spices to make the vindaloo spice mix. I went this way because that’s what the inventory of my spice cabinet dictated. You can use only whole spices or you can use only ground. It’s totally up to you. But the one thing I will say is it’s nice to work with some freshly toasted spices. It brings a certain warmth and nuttiness to the spice mix. So even if you’re just toasting some peppercorns, I think it’s worth it.
I ground my spices in a small coffee grinder we’ve set aside for this specific task. Once you grind spices in a particular coffee grinder, it’s difficult to use it for coffee again. Unless, of course, you’re okay with your coffee tasting vaguely like cumin. You can also use a manual spice mill if you have access to one. Or you could kick old school and use a mortar and pestle. That last option is a bit of a workout, just so you know. Honestly, once your spice mix is ground, the Vindaloo paste comes together in a snap. So don’t let the toasting and grinding deter you.
Now, let’s talk about the paste and one crucial ingredient, the vinegar. Vindaloos are defined by vinegar. Most vindaloos use coconut vinegar, an ingredient derived from the sap of coconut blossoms. The sap is left to ferment for 8-12 months, which transforms it naturally into a vinegar. I can get coconut vinegar because I’m lucky enough to live close to a Filipino grocery that sells the stuff. A wide variety of vinegars figure prominently in Filipino cuisine as well. But if you aren’t as lucky as me, I’ve found apple cider vinegar works as well. It is slightly more acidic than coconut vinegar but still tasty.
In addition to coating the lamb in paste, I would suggest sprinkling the shanks with salt and sugar. If you can find palm sugar, that’s great. If you can’t, use demerara. The demerara has a little of the depth that palm sugar brings to the table. It may seem strange to use sugar so liberally in a savory dish but as with most Indian dishes, vindaloo is all about balance.
Now, let’s talk risotto. This Spiced Yogurt Risotto is a bit of a love letter to raita. Cucumber raita to be specific. Cucumber raita is the most common form of raita served outside of India. I simply cannot order Indian food without getting some raita. Many people use it to combat the spiciness of Indian food. But I love raita for the contrast it brings. The sharp, bright, cool, and creamy texture and flavors really balance out the deep and complex flavors of Indian curries.
So how do you translate raita into a risotto? Very easily it turns out. The risotto starts out with garlic, ginger, and cumin seeds. Then from there, you basically make risotto. Simmering stock, meditative stirring, the whole nine yards. Then, when the risotto is done, you take it off of the heat and stir in a cup of yogurt. And that’s really it. Pretty simple stuff.
So that’s pretty much everything you need to know about these Vindaloo Braised Lamb Shanks with Yogurt Risotto. A playful take on the classic Easter meal and your favorite Indian takeaway. And if you’re not in charge of Easter dinner this year or you don’t celebrate the holiday, keep this recipe in your back pocket. This is a great dinner party menu, no matter the time of year.
Vindaloo Braised Lamb Shanks with Spiced Yogurt Risotto
- 1 spice mill, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle
- 1 Food Processor
- 1 Large Cast Iron Skillet
- 1 Large, deep skillet
- 1 Large pot
Vindaloo Spice Paste
- 10 black peppercorns
- 6-8 whole cloves
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 8 cloves garlic peeled
- 3-4 red chilis stems removed
- 1 2-inch knob ginger sliced into medallions
- 2 tsp tamarind pulp
- 3 tbsp Kashmiri chili powder **
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ⅓ cup water
- ¼ cup coconut vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Vindaloo Braised Lamb Shanks
- 4 lamb shanks
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp demerara sugar
- 1 batch Vindaloo Spice Paste see above
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 4 shallots halved and sliced into halfmoons
- 1½ tsp black mustard seed
- 2 cup chicken stock
Spiced Yogurt Risotto
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tsp ginger minced
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1½ cups arborio rice
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup frozen peas
- ¾ cup full-fat yogurt
- 2 mini cucumbers julienned
- fresh mint leaves
- 2 red chilies thinly sliced
For the Vindaloo Spice Paste
- Pour the peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, and cumin seeds into a large dry skillet. Toast over medium heat until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the toasted spices to a spice mill, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle and grind until a fine powder forms.10 black peppercorns, 6-8 whole cloves, 4 green cardamom pods, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp fenugreek seeds, 2 tsp cumin seeds
- Place the ground spice mixture in a large food processor and add the garlic, red chilis, ginger, tamarind pulp, Kashmiri chili powder, cinnamon, and turmeric. Turn on the food processor and stream in the water and the vinegar. Continue to blitz until a paste forms. ***8 cloves garlic, 3-4 red chilis, 1 2-inch knob ginger, 2 tsp tamarind pulp, 3 tbsp Kashmiri chili powder **, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ground turmeric, ⅓ cup water, ¼ cup coconut vinegar or apple cider vinegar
For the Lamb Shanks
- Pat the lamb shanks dry with a paper towel and sprinkle them evenly with the salt and sugar. Cover them with the Vindaloo Spice Paste and transfer them to the fridge. Leave them to marinate for a minimum of 3 hours ****4 lamb shanks, 2 tsp kosher salt, 2 tsp demerara sugar, 1 batch Vindaloo Spice Paste
- When you're ready to cook the lamb, preheat the oven to 300°F. Melt the butter and add the oil to a large cast-iron skillet. Turn the heat down to low and add the shallots. Sauté until just translucent. Stir in the mustard seed and sauté for about a minute more.2 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 tbsp neutral oil, 4 shallots, 1½ tsp black mustard seed
- Take the skillet off of the heat and add the lamb shanks. Pour any residual spice paste over top and pour in the chicken stock. Cover and transfer to the oven. Braise the lamb for 3 hours, turning the shanks every hour.2 cup chicken stock
For the Risotto
- Pour the chicken stock into a large pot and place over high heat, reduce to the barest simmer.6 cups chicken stock
- Melt the butter and heat the oil in a large deep skillet. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, and cumin seeds. Sauté until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.1 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 tbsp neutral oil, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp garam masala, ½ tsp cumin seeds
- Add the rice to the skillet and sauté until it starts to crackle and emits a nutty aroma. Ladle in a little of the simmering chicken stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed.1½ cups arborio rice
- Once the first round of the stock is absorbed, repeat until the stock is gone and the rice is tender ***** Stir in the peas and cook until heated through.1 cup frozen peas
- Take the risotto off of the heat and stir in the yogurt. Taste the risotto and season with salt accordingly. How much salt you add will depend on personal taste and the saltiness of the stock you used.¾ cup full-fat yogurt
- Ladle the risotto into pasta bowls and top each with a lamb shank. Garnish with cucumbers, mint leaves, micro-greens, and red chilies. Serve immediately!2 mini cucumbers, fresh mint leaves, micro-greens, 2 red chilies