According to Fayez Aoun, (cookbook author and professor) this dish dates back to the Abbassid empire; it was called madira and was written about by Zaman (967-1007), who featured it in a tale.
Laban is milk (or yogurt) in Arabic and ummo is mother; a lamb cooked in his mother’s milk? Or as I understand it, a dish of virginal tenderness: The creamy yogurt sauce, livened up by the lilting flavor of garlic and the silky smoothness of the lamb shanks contribute to this gustatory experience of absolute purity.
INGREDIENTS: 8 servings
- 1 pound of lamb shanks
- 1/2 pound of small boiling onions
- 1 pound of yogurt
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 cup of cornstarch diluted in a bit of water
- 4 and up to 8 cloves of garlic, mashed in a mortar with a dash of salt
- 1 1/2 cups of basmati rice
- Flavorings for the lamb stock: bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries, peppercorns, a few sprigs of parsley, an onion studded with a few cloves.
- Dried mint leaves, to pass around (optional)
- olive oil, as needed
- Make a stock with the lamb shanks: Place the lamb shanks in a pot and cover with tap water; add some flavorings (I used bay leaves, a few allspice berries, peppercorns, an onion, a few sprigs of parsley, whatever you have on hand and feel like using). Bring the stock to a simmer and let it simmer gently, skimming it from time to time until the lamb shanks fall off the bone, which could take one hour and up to three hours. (You can use a pressure cooker if you like or a crock pot).
- Place the rice in a bowl, add a dash of salt and some water to cover and let it soak for a while (30 minutes minimum); if using Basmati rice, rince the water several times until it is clear and soak it for one hour in lightly salted water.
- Pour boiling water over the small pearl onions; wait two minutes then peel the onions and set aside.
- Prepare the pesto: peel a few cloves of garlic (about 6 for this dish), cut them up and mash them with a dash of salt in a mortar. If using mint (traditional), crumble the dried mint and place over the garlic; heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, place the garlic and mint on top and stir for a few seconds till fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside; the pesto will be used at the last minute when making the sauce for this dish.
- When the shanks are ready, strain the stock and place the shanks in a plate, discard the fat and cut the meat in bite-size portions. Set aside. Place the stock over medium heat and cook the pearl onions in it for about 15 minutes over a gentle simmer.
- Cook the rice in some water or a portion of the lamb stock. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk an egg white lightly, add the yogurt and whisk to mix, add the cornstarch diluted in some water and mix. Place the yogurt mixture in the meat stock and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens (about 15 minutes). Add the meat pieces and stir, and finally add the garlic and mint pesto. Stir for a minute and serve hot over the rice.
You can use beef stewing meat instead of the lamb shanks and proceed as above.
You can flavor the yogurt sauce with fried garlic and omit the mint.
Traditionally, a small bowl of powdered mint is made available for people who want to add more to their plate.