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Tamarind-Tomatillo Lamb Shanks

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

I love lamb, and this recipe is so comforting and delicious. I know this protein can seem a little daunting to some, but this is a really great way to elevate any meal and hopefully inspire you to start working with lamb. This will be sure to impress your guests at your next gathering or dinner party and may just become a family favorite as it is at my house.

Servings: 4

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 3 hours



Tamarind-Tomatillo Paste Ingredients

Tamarind-Pasilla Paste

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 4 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, and deveined

  • 1 large white onion, quartered

  • 10 whole garlic cloves, peeled

  • 4 plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1½ cups strained tamarind pulp


  • 3 or 4 dried avocado leaves*

  • 4 lamb shanks (approximately 1 pound each)

  • Salt

  • 2½ pounds fresh tomatillos

  • 1 cup Tamarind-Pasilla Paste

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 bunches fresh cilantro, stems discarded and leaves chopped

  • 3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

  • 12 corn tortillas, warmed, for serving

  • Julienned radish and finely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

*Note: If you can’t find dried avocado leaves, you can get a vague approximation of their herbal, fennel-like flavor by roasting the lamb shanks with a few bay leaves and a sprinkle of slightly crush anise or fennel seeds.



Tamarind-Pasilla Paste

Makes 3 cups

  1. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Line a plate with paper towels.

  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to dance. Add the pasillas and fry on both sides until they’re puffed up, about 15 seconds total. Transfer the chiles to the paper towels to drain. Put them in a small bowl, pour in the boiling water, and let them soak until they’re soft, about 15 minutes. Drain the chiles and reserve them and the soaking liquid separately.

  3. Discard the oil and wipe the skillet clean. Set it back over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, toss the onion, garlic, and tomatoes with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper, toss gently, and put them in the hot skillet. Cook about 7 minutes on each side, until they’re charred, with visible black spots. Transfer the vegetables to a clean bowl and let them cool to room temperature.

  4. Put the tamarind pulp, chiles ½ cup of the soaking liquid, and the roasted vegetables in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

  5. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to a month.

Tamarind-Tomatillo Lamb Shanks


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

  2. Put the avocado leaves in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and toast, turning them over frequently, until they’re fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Put the leaves in a Dutch oven.

  3. Lay the lamb shanks over the avocado leaves. Sprinkle the shanks generously with salt (about 2 teaspoons) and cover the pot. Put it in the oven. Roast the lamb until it’s very tender and falling off the bone, 2½ to 3 hours.

  4. While the lamb is roasting, husk and rinse the tomatillos and put them in a medium saucepan. Just cover them with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until they’re tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

  5. Drain the tomatillos and transfer them to a food processor or blender. Add the Tamarind-Pasilla Paste, olive oil, cilantro, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt. Puree until the mixture is smooth.

  6. When the lamb is fully cooked, transfer the shanks to a platter. Drain off and discard he fat left in the bottom of the Dutch oven and discard the avocado leaves.

  7. Pour the tamarind-tomatillo puree into the Cutch oven and put it over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to dislodge the tasty browned bits from the bottom, until the sauce starts to thicken, 10 to 15 minutes.

  8. Remove the meat from the bone or leave the shanks intact. Put the meat back in the pot and cook it for another 5 minutes of so, basting to bring the flavors together.

  9. Serve the meat and sauce with the tortillas. Garnish with the radish and cilantro.

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