Kashmiri-style roast lamb shanks with cranberries, pistachios and almonds

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Sumayya Usmani introduces a traditional Kashmiri-style lamb recipe that is often cooked at Christmas in her native Pakistan. The tender lamb shanks are marinated overnight in an aromatic mix of spices and yoghurt, with almonds, pistachios and cranberries for added texture and flavour.

First published in 2015

Christmas in Pakistan is always a festive time, not just the Christian community but everyone in my homeland joins in the celebrations. It is a time for rejoicing and an excuse to cook, eat and feed well, much akin to the native food culture of Pakistan.

In Pakistan Christmas is ‘Bara Din’, which translates to the ‘big day’. This day is spent with family and meals aren’t usually the traditional Western fare but mainly traditional Pakistani dishes like biryani, roast spiced lamb or mutton korma. Many Pakistani cultural traditions are attached to Christmas here, making the festivities close to those of other religious communities in the country.

A Pakistani Christmas menu would usually always feature meat as the main dish – legs of lamb and mutton shanks are popular, from slow-cooked rich curries and fragrant rice dishes to spiced marinades. To me, the Pakistani Christmas feast is one which is exotic and aromatic – headily spiced kitchens mingled with the floral aromas of red rose and jasmine garlands, the sounds of clinking glasses, bangles and the scent of henna covered hands.

This recipe is based on a traditional Pakistani/Kashmiri-style leg of lamb, which is marinated overnight with a spicy, fruity mix of coconut, pistachios, raisins and almonds combined with freshly ground garam masala spices. I think this works really well as an alternative to a roast turkey dinner, and I have swapped the raisins with dried cranberries, and opted out of the coconut for a more festive feel. My spice blend includes black cardamom, cloves, mace, red rose petals, black cumin and a paste of fried red onions that adds umami to the marinade.

For a festive side dish, why not try Sumayya's Saffron and pistachio butter Brussels sprouts recipe, or her spiced roast potatoes recipe.




Dry spice blend

Lamb and marinade


In a spice grinder or food processor, grind together the dry spice mix until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl or sealed container and set aside
Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a pan over a high heat then add the red onion slices. Fry until browned all over then remove from the pan and drain any excess oil on kitchen paper
When cool enough to handle, add the fried onions, ginger, garlic, nuts, cranberries, yoghurt, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil to a large, deep-sided dish that will accommodate the lamb shanks
Add a pinch of salt to taste and 1 large tablespoon of the spice mix and mix everything thoroughly together to form a marinade – reserve the rest of the spice blend to garnish later
Add the lamb shanks to the marinade, making sure they are fully coated in the mixture. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge
Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3
Heat a large frying pan with the ghee or butter. remove the shanks from the marinade and seal the meat on all sides in the hot pan. Transfer to a large baking dish and pour over the marinade
Cover loosely with foil and cook for 3 hours, removing the foil for the last 30 minutes of cooking. Baste the meat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil during cooking. When cooked, the meat should be falling off the bone – if it's still a little tough, return to the oven and continue to cook until tender
To serve, sprinkle with the reserved spice mix and serve with rice or vegetables as liked

Sumayya Usmani is a cookbook author, writer and cookery teacher who specialises in Pakistani cuisine.

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