Laban immor

Laban immor

Hot yoghurt soup with lamb shanks, pearl onions, broad beans and rice

Matt Harvey

Meat dishes cooked in yoghurt have been popular all over the Arab world for centuries. The name of this popular Lebanese version – meaning literally, ‘mother’s milk’ – implies that the young lamb is cooked in its mother’s milk. Traditionally, this dish is served as a stew with plain rice or vermicelli noodles. I like to prepare it as a soup and to cook the rice in the full-flavoured stock. As it cooks, the starch released from the rice adds a lovely creaminess to the finished soup. You can use left-over rice, if you have any.


Quantity Ingredient
50ml olive oil
2 large lamb shanks
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 sticks celery, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, scraped and halved lengthways
1 small leek, white part only
2 garlic cloves , peeled
75ml sherry
2 litres good-quality chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon allspice berries, lightly cracked
1 red bullet chilli, split in half
100g long-grain rice
6 pearl onions, peeled and halved
500g plain yoghurt
1/2 tablespoon cornflour
50ml water
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
8 broad beans, shelled, blanched and peeled
dried mint
extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and seal the lamb shanks until nicely browned all over. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Add the onion, celery, carrot, leek and garlic and sauté over a low heat for 5 minutes. Return the shanks to the pan, add the sherry and stock and bring to the boil. Skim, then lower the heat.
  2. Combine the cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, allspice and chilli in a small muslin cloth and tie with string. Submerge amongst the vegetables and shanks, cover the pan and leave to simmer on a low heat for 1¾–2 hours or until the lamb is falling from the bones. Remove from heat and strain the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the vegetables to extract maximum flavour. Discard vegetables and spice bag. Remove the meat from the bones, leaving it in bite-sized chunks, and reserve.
  3. Return the lamb cooking liquid to the cleaned saucepan and add the rice and pearl onions. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the onions are tender and the rice is cooked.
  4. To stabilise the yoghurt, tip into a large bowl and stir briskly until smooth. Mix the cornflour with the water and add to the yoghurt with the egg. Stir well, then tip into the hot soup. Lower the heat and cook, stirring in one direction only, for about 10 minutes, or until the soup has thickened.
  5. Return the meat to the pan, season to taste and gently heat through. Serve garnished with a few broad beans, a sprinkle of dried mint and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
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