Every Pesach, I still follow the lamb shank recipe passed down by my grandmother Simcha to my mother Rica
Every Pesach, my Spanish Moroccan grandfather would she’cht (slaughter) a lamb. My grandmother would make a tagine style roast with the shanks. One of the lamb shanks would be displayed on the Seder plate to represent the ancient ritual of the Paschal lamb sacrifice, while my mother and her family would chant the Haggadah in Hebrew and Spanish.
Rabbi Moshe Bensabat was my mother’s father and the only rabbi in the ancient port city of Larache. He conducted the holiday services; he performed all the wedding ceremonies and was the mohel at all the Brit Milahs. Whenever the religious needs of the community became too hectic, they would bring in a Rabbi from the nearby cities of Tétouan or Tangier. When my mother’s brother Uncle Salomon became a Rabbi, they both served the community. Then my grandparents made Aliyah to Israel in the early 1950’s. (When they left Larache, my newlywed parents moved to Casablanca with my mother’s sister Clara and her new husband Menasse.) In Israel, Rabbi Salomon served as the secretary to the second Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, the revered Rav Yitzhak Nissim (son of former Knesset Member Moshe Nissim). Later, in a reprise of my grandfather’s role in Larache, Rabbi Salomon was the sole clergy for the burgeoning community of Barcelona. After serving 30 years as a beloved Rabbi, he retired to Israel in the 1980’s.
Every Pesach, I still follow the lamb shank recipe passed down by my grandmother Simcha to my mother Rica. Her recipe results in the most delicious tender glazed lamb shanks you’ve ever tasted. The dried apricots add a tangy brightness and the prunes add a deep honey caramel which contrasts so well with the robust flavor of the lamb.
My mother always rubbed the lamb shanks with lemon, then she soaked them in water infused with a dash of lemon juice for an hour. This was her trick to mellow out the gamy flavor of the lamb.
My mother always rubbed the lamb shanks with lemon, then she soaked them in water infused with a dash of lemon juice for an hour. This was her trick to mellow out the gamy flavor of the lamb. After hours of slow cooking on the stove top or in the oven, the lamb is soft and tender and falling off the bone.
Recently, I purchased a cast iron tagine on Amazon and so far, I’ve been incredibly impressed by the way it enhances the flavors of my food.
I only make this dish once a year in honor of Pesach. It brings back incredible memories and reinforces my belief in tradition and connects me to the ancient wisdom of our religion.
The lamb shanks look very impressive and the deep, sweet and savory flavors will truly wow your family and guests. The secret is all in the technique of slow cooking. The slower, the better. After all, that’s how our grandmothers did it. Perhaps we all need to take a lesson from our grandparents, to just slow down and enjoy our food, our family and our friends.
Here’s to creating new memories.
Lamb Shank Tagine
½ cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sweet paprika
2 Tbsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated or ginger
8 cloves garlic, grated
1 cup chopped cilantro
3-4 lamb shanks
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, grated
½ cup golden raisins, divided
½ cup whole pitted prunes
½ cup whole dried apricots
2 cinnamon sticks
1 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp cinnamon powder
1 big pinch saffron
2 fennel bulbs, cut into 4 wedges
½ cup red wine
¼ cup cilantro
Cilantro, pomegranate arils and skinless
almonds for garnish
In a large bowl, combine ½ cup oil, salt, paprika, turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic and cilantro.
Add the lamb shanks and coat all sides in marinade. Let sit for one hour.
In a tagine or Dutch oven, warm ¼ cup oil over medium heat.
Sauté grated onion for 5 minutes, then add half the raisins, prunes, apricots and cinnamon sticks.
Add the turmeric and stir well. Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes Add half of the quartered fennel, and the lamb shanks on top, sprinkle the cinnamon and saffron, add the rest of the fennel quarters in between and on top of the lamb.
Add reserved raisins
Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours depending on your pot. If juices dry up, add water, simmer until lamb is tender and falling off the bone.
Top with cilantro
Optional toppings — pomegranate arils toasted or fried whole peeled almonds
Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food