Rediscovering Palestinian Cuisine

Lamb & yogurt stew (laban Immo)

Lamb & yogurt stew (laban Immo)

Rasha S. made a special request for this one because it reminds her so much of her childhood in Jordan. This lamb and yogurt dish is made across the Eastern Mediterranean in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Syria. Having never made laban immo (literally, “milk of the mother.” Weird, I know) I immediately phoned my mom, who is basically the doctor on call for this kind of stuff. She explained it’s a shishbarak recipe–which is lamb dumplings in yogurt sauce–minus the dumplings, dummy. And since we were already on a yogurt bender (see prior labneh) there was a dairy stockpile waiting to be transformed into this warming and fragrant winter stew. To a Western palate the combination of lamb and spices in a yogurt sauce might seem strange–but just trust me on this one. You’ve heard the enzymes in dairy are great meat tenderizers, and this is certainly true of the yogurt’s effect on the lamb in this dish. The lamb, which will already be tender from an hour of simmering, will almost fall apart and cut like butter in your mouth. This is one of those dishes that looks like it could go terribly wrong (curdled yogurt?) and indeed it can. However, the trick here is to let the lamb and onions cool down before adding the yogurt sauce, ladle out some of the lamb drippings and mix them with a cup of the cooked yogurt to temper it. Then add labneh to the yogurt to thicken instead of adding cornstarch.

It’s a dish with simple ingredients but one that is incredibly flavorful, since a key element to this dish is the spice blend; spice in the right proportions and you’ve got a delicacy, but under spice and the yogurt taste will overwhelm. Serve over rice that has been topped with fried mint and garlic.

*I’m heavy-handed with the spices so use less Baharat or Arabic spice blend if you’re new to the cuisine and still becoming acclimated to its flavors.*

Ingredients for lamb:
1 – 1.5 lbs lamb stew meat
4 small yellow onions, or 2 large onions, sliced
1 shallot, if desired
1 tablespoon Baharat or Arabic spice mix
1 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 cups water

Ingredients for yogurt sauce:
4-5 cups full or low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup labneh, if desired

1 cup Basmati rice
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed then chopped
1 teaspoon dried or fresh mint, minced

1. Trim any excess fat from the lamb and discard. If it is not already cut into 1-2 inch chunks, do so now.
2. Place a pot on the stove over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add the onions and sliced shallot and saute for roughly 5 minutes until translucent

3. Add the lamb, salt, pepper, bay leaves, and Arabic spices. Brown the lamb on each side, which should take a few minutes.
4. When browned, add 2 cups water  to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. When it begins to boil, turn down the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the meat is tender. Turn off the heat and let the meat mixture cool down.
5. In a separate bowl, mix 1 cup of the yogurt with 1/3 cup of the meat sauce until combined. Pour this into a pot that contains the rest of the yogurt, and mix well to temper the yogurt sauce (i.e. gently raise the temperature of the yogurt sauce). Cook the yogurt sauce while constantly stirring over low heat to prevent curdling. You may also add labneh or cream cheese to the mix, since when cooking dairy, fat is another safeguard against curdling. However, there is no need to add thickeners if you have the time to stir the mixture over low heat until it reduces and bubbles.
6. Then add the entire meat mixture to the pot of yogurt sauce. Simmer altogether on low heat for 10 minutes.
7. Make some Basmati rice, and fry mint and garlic in a little olive oil to garnish.
8. Serve laban immo alone as a stew or over the rice.

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