Laban Ummo (lamb in yogurt sauce)

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

METHOD:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Pour boiling water over the small pearl onions; wait two minutes then peel the onions and set aside.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Cook the rice in some water or a portion of the lamb stock. Set aside.
  3. 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.

NOTE:

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.


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38 Comments

  1. Posted February 22, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I love braising lamb shanks slowly in the winter. This is so different than my Italian versions – much prettier also. I can see the marriage of the lamb with yoghurt – or rather – I can taste it.

  2. Posted February 22, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never cooked lamb this way before. I normally just coat it with salt and pepper and pan fry it. Don’t know how to do it any other way! So I’m loving this, such a great idea and something new for me to try :D. Also, looks delicious!!

  3. Posted February 22, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    This sounds wonderful, how many people does it serve?

  4. Posted February 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    It does look creamy good… you know, I’ve never made the shank… always get the leg. I can see I’m missing out on a lot with this recipe… of course I like the idea that it’s an antique!

  5. Posted February 22, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Joumana, this looks really fantastic. I love lamb, green beans and tomatoes, but have never had this Lebanese dish. I will just have to remedy that shortly and make it myself. Thanks again!

  6. Joumana
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    @Scienter: this will yield 8 servings

  7. samir
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    one of my all time faves..except I always cook the yogurt till thick and then add to simmering stock..is this easier?

  8. samir
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    this is also made throughout the Levant. .under different names. etc,,Shaqriyeh in Syria..Mensaf in Palestine and Jordan( their version is garnished with toasted pine nuts)..thank you for posting

  9. Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I have never seen a sauce made this way, with the egg white and corn starch in the yogurt and broth. It sounds amazing! I am really excited to try this!

  10. samir
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    sorry..I guess I should gather my thoughts all in one post! but one can use trimmed lamb shoulder on the bone.. a great cut for this as well!

  11. Posted February 23, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Bonjour Joumana, cette sauce au yaourt m’a l ‘air bien sympathique et je l’ essayerai ce dimanche avec la menthe, car j’ adore le petit plus apporté par cette herbe. Bisous et passe une belle journée

  12. Posted February 23, 2011 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Jumana, your laban emmo looks fabulous!

  13. Posted February 23, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Very inviting lamb in yogurt sauce, marvellous..

  14. Posted February 23, 2011 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    Never had lamb prepared this way…love the sauce especially.

  15. Posted February 23, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I’ve had a recipe for this for quite some time and am yet to give it a go. Perhaps seeing it here will give me a nudge? Looks and sounds delicious

  16. Posted February 23, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    wow, that looks amazingly delicious..Never seen a sauce made in this way…something new and uinque.

  17. Posted February 23, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    You always just hit the spot. Now I want to go out and buy lamb shanks…

  18. Posted February 23, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    The other day I made our osso bucco with pork shanks instead of veal and it worked out fantastic. I’m actually thinking of doing your yogurt recipe next time because it really sounds like a meal I’d savour greatly. I’ll keep lamb for our Easter period…especially since our two families make so much of it ;o)

    Ciao for now,
    Claudia

  19. Posted February 23, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Yogurt gives such a great taste to meats like lamb. I now try to marinate them in yogurt and it is great. This one looks moutwatering!

  20. Posted February 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    j’ai aimé la sauce elle a l’air délicieuse à rester prochainement
    jolie présentation
    bonne soirée

  21. Posted February 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    What a great idea – I haven’t tried using yoghurt in a dish apart from curries, so this is a “must try” recipe for me. Many thanks for posting it! My grandmother used to keep a yoghurt culture in a jam jar in her kitchen with which she used to make her own. She also used to have a small butter churn as well with a handle to turn the contents . . . I used to help her pat out the butter and add the salt when I was little.

  22. Posted February 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh my. That is one gorgeous dish, Joumana. I love lamb shanks and they marry perfectly with that sauce.
    Your photo is perfect!

  23. Posted February 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    this dish is gorgeous, it’s rare to see a dish in such a pure, white form. In Pakistan there’s white korma made with meat, yogurt, almonds–but it isn’t pure white. I will have to try this!

  24. Posted February 23, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    What a lovely creamy dish, Joumana. I can only imagine how scrumptious that is with the garlic. Delish. :-)

  25. Posted February 23, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    I have a friend that really loves lamb and would adore this dish. Such a fantastic blend of spices and with the creamy yogurt, delightful :)
    I hope your week is going well :)

  26. Posted February 23, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Que de saveurs dans ce plat. J’aime énormément ce mélange de saveurs.
    A noter.
    A très bientôt.

  27. Posted February 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    mmm..I can imagine all of those tasty flavors of lamb & yogurt combined!

  28. samir
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    marhaba..was still wondering if adding the yogurt/starch/egg mix directly to broth and then cooking is easier than stabilizing the yogurt and then adding to simmering stock?

  29. Joumana
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    @Samir: I just do it this way and it works for me; the reason is I can gauge better the amount of cornstarch I need (enough to thicken the broth and yogurt together) so if I need more cornstarch, I will add some more as I go.

  30. Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    As a Greek, I can appreciate these the tangy yogurt sauce but I would probably skip the corn starch….strained yogurt could thicken this sauce sufficiently.

  31. Posted February 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    First time to your blog..
    awesome recipe..

    Try dropping into mine once!

  32. Posted March 4, 2011 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Hi Joumana,

    first time commenting but have read much of your blog and just adore it. this recipe made my heart flutter as all recipes “bil laban” do – it reminded me of being home with my parents or in Amman, Jordan at my teta’s house. i’ve recently started a blog about my recent relocation to Melbourne, and often use Middle Eastern flavor profiles in my recipes. i will definitely be keeping up with your lovely site for inspiration!

    thanks for representing our shared part of the world so beautifully.

  33. samir
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I just discovered goats milk yogurt at my local health food store ..no longer any need to stabilize I believe!!!!!! I tested a small batch .brought it to boil and it didnt curdle..

  34. Joumana
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    @Samir, great to know it does it in the US as well!:)

  35. Nansi
    Posted March 15, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Hi Joumana! I’m going to make this today, how much stock do you add to the yogrut mixture?

  36. Joumana
    Posted March 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    @Nansi: I did a rewrite of the recipe and was planning to include this piece of information! When you cook the lamb in the stock, after the lamb is done, you remove the lamb pieces and let the stock reduce to about 1 cup.

  37. Georges
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Can you use plain yogurt or does it have to be laban?

  38. Joumana
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    @Georges: You can use plain yogurt.

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