Lazy lamb: Kazakhstani beshbarmak

A couple of weekends ago, we had rather a lot of multi-cultural foodie fun! It started on Saturday night when we ventured into Clapham with friends for a yummy Eritrean meal at Adulis. We had a great time using the injera to pick up the variety of tasty dishes we ordered. We were sad that they’d run out of the Eritrean honey wine that we really wanted to try, but that must just mean that we’ll need to return!

662a Eritrean food compressed

Next stop on the weekend’s culinary journey happened on Sunday afternoon, when Miranda attended a French Macaron class run by Flammen & Citronen. This had been a birthday present from Ash, who also benefited from the ten macarons that were brought home! The class was lots of fun, as was eating the product of the hard work afterwards!

663a Macarons compressed

Most relevant to this blog, though, is what Ash was doing while Miranda was macaron-ing: namely, boiling lamb shanks to create Kazakhstan’s national dish, beshbarmak. The name of the dish literally translates to ‘five fingers’, because that’s what you’re supposed to eat it with. We forgot all about that and used a fork, but it all goes down the same! Traditionally, it’s made with horse meat, but we obviously weren’t going to use that. Our butcher suggested we try lamb shanks, and they seemed to do the trick, but you could also substitute other cuts of lamb or beef suitable for slow cooking. We used a recipe from World Food – a blogger trying to complete the same challenge as us!


4 lamb shanks
3 cups plain flour
4 eggs
2 onions
1/2 bunch spring onions
Salt and pepper

1. Put the lamb shanks in a large pot of cold water and set to boil. Once it has come to the boil, skim the foam and reduce the heat to low. After 2 hours, add salt to taste. You can expect the meat to cook for 3 hours.
2. While the meat is cooking, prepare the dough. Mix together the flour, eggs and 1/2 tsp salt. You may need to add some water if the dough is too dry to bind together. Cover with cling film and set aside for about half an hour.
3. When ready to cook, divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll out each part as thin as possible and cut into 2″ x 2″ squares.
4. When it is cooked, take the meat out of the broth, cut (or flake) it into bite-sized pieces and put it in a bowl, covered, to keep warm.
5. Cut the onions into half-ring pieces and season. Put into a medium-sized bowl and add some of the broth to cover them (use the upper part of the broth, where there is more fat). Set aside.
6. Bring the broth back to the boil and add the pasta squares. Cook as you would normally cook fresh pasta (the cooking time will depend on how thin you rolled it).
7. When ready, serve by putting the pasta on the plate first, covered by a layer of meat and some of the onions (strained). Garnish with spring onions.
Serves 4

665a Lamb shanks pre-boiling compressed

666a Eggs and flour compressed

667a Dough compressed

668a Boiling lamb shanks compressed

669a Boiled lamb shanks compressed
We PROMISE this tastes better than it looks.

670a Rolling dough compressed

671a Beshbarmak compressed

Sound and look pretty bland? That’s what we thought too. However, our expectations were exceeded. Somehow, this dish with hardly any ingredients ended up being really tasty. This was probably helped by the fact that the shank is a particularly flavoursome cut of lamb, and proves the value of simple cooking with good ingredients. In hindsight, we maybe should have used parsley or dill instead of spring onions for the garnish (given how much onion was already on the dish), but it wasn’t unlikeable as it was. Ash added some of our favourite mint sauce to his, but Miranda ate hers ‘pure’ and was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was.

As mentioned in the recipe above, the quantities serve four. You could do that, or you could do what we did, which was to reimagine the ingredients the following night by turning the leftover pasta dough into a sort of pappardelle and adding the leftover lamb to tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and rosemary to create a pasta sauce – thus continuing our culinary adventures into Italy! Well, sort of. It was another delicious way of using the lamb and pasta dough, and made us think of all the other things we could do by preparing lamb shanks in the easiest way ever: just putting them in a pan of boiling water for three hours!

672a Boiled lamb pappardelle compressed

Next time, we head to Kyrgyzstan. Apparently its national dish is beshbarmak as well, so we’ll need to think outside the box!

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