This authentic Shakriyeh dish is a Syrian style yogurt and lamb stew, popular across Syria and the middle east. Lamb shanks (or bone-in shoulder pieces) are infused with whole spices and cooked until tender, then simmered in a creamy yogurt stew. The tanginess from the yogurt cuts through the richness of the lamb for a perfectly balanced dish. To save time, I cook the lamb in a pressure cooker, but stove top instructions are also included!
Syria's Famous Yogurt Stew
Syria is known for its yogurt based dishes and stews. Shakriyeh is one of the most famous ones, along with shish barak. I love making yogurt stews as a nice change from many of the tomato based stews I grew up eating (like fasolia and bamya). They are usually my order at my local Syrian restaurant.
This dish, when you break it up into components, is quite simple but very well balanced. Tender lamb shanks are infused with whole spices like cardamom and cinnamon, then simmered in a yogurt sauce. The tanginess from the yogurt balances the richness of the lamb so well.
If you don't love lamb shanks, you can also use bone-in lamb shoulder cut into pieces (I use shoulder in this kabsa recipe). Using lamb makes this dish more elegant and "grand", perfect for serving to guests, the same way that we serve quzi in Iraq.
In fact, it's said that the name "shakriyeh", which comes from the Arabic root word "shukr" was chosen for the dish, simply because families were thankful that they are able to indulge in an expensive dish.
In other parts of the levant, like areas of Palestine and Lebanon, where it is also enjoyed, it may go by the name of "laban immo" which literally translates to "its mother's milk". Could it be because the lamb is simmered in yogurt, which was made of sheep's milk back then? That would probably be my best guess.
If you don't love lamb, I recommend using bone-in veal shoulder cut into pieces, which will also yield tender results. Beef is often used as well.
Shakriyeh Ingredients & Substitutions
Here are the ingredients needed for lamb shakriyeh:
- Lamb shanks or substitute bone-in lamb shoulder cut into medium sized pieces. Beef can also be used but will not be as tender as lamb. Bone-in veal shoulder is a great alternative for those who do not like lamb.
- Onions and whole spices to infuse the lamb with flavour as it cooks. My exact whole spices are listed below.
- Whole Yogurt for the base of the stew. It's best not to use any low fat yogurt for this dish.
- Cornstarch and an egg, both of which are used to stabilize the yogurt and prevent it from splitting.
- Garlic and pine nuts for the garnish when the stew is finished cooking.
With regards to whole spices, there are no strict rules on which ones can be used. Whole spices are always used when cooking lamb, to infuse the lamb with flavour and get rid of any gamey scent. Here are the ones I always use:
- Allspice - these are little berries that infuse a great amount of flavour
- Cinnamon Sticks - 1 or 2 sticks will be fine.
- Green Cardamom Pods - These are the most fragrant and essential when cooking meat.
- Cloves - these are optional but if you have them on hand, use them!
- Black peppercorns - also optional but add a lot of flavour.
How to Make Shakriyeh
Shakriyeh is usually made by cooking the lamb and the yogurt separately, then bringing them together at the end to simmer before serving.
To cook the lamb, I prefer using an instant pot. But if you don't have one, you can also use a large pot over the stove.
Start by searing the shanks on all sides until lightly golden. This increases the flavour of the broth. You can do this directly in the instant pot on "SAUTE" mode. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding and because shanks are quite large!
Add the water and the onions and bring to a boil. Once boiling, you will notice some foam forming on the surface. Skim all of the foam and discard.
Add the whole spices. We add the spices after skimming the foam, to avoid skimming some of the spices along with it. Cover the instant pot and pressure cook for 45 minutes.
If using the stove top: cover the pot halfway with a lid and bring to a boil. You'll need to boil for at least 1.5 hours and up to 2 hours until the lamb is fork tender, then continue with the recipe as instructed.
Once the lamb is tender, remove it from the broth and set aside.
Strain the broth to get rid of the onions and whole spices, and set it aside.
To make the yogurt stew: In a separate pot, add the yogurt, egg, cornstarch and salt. Whisk all the ingredients until combined, before turning on the heat.
TIP: When making yogurt stews, always whisk the cornstarch, egg and yogurt while all the ingredients are cold, to ensure the cornstarch blends in well with the yogurt.
Once the yogurt is smooth, turn on the heat to medium and simmer it for about 10 minutes until bubbles start to form on the surface. You do not need to bring it to a rapid boil, as this may split the yogurt.
TIP: If the yogurt stew splits, simply blend it with an immersion blender and it will become smooth and creamy again.
Once lightly bubbling, start adding the lamb broth to the yogurt stew, a few cups at a time. Add roughly 2-3 cups. Check the consistency of the yogurt; it should not be too watery. Some people like it thicker than others, so adjust as desired.
TIP: Adding the broth will increase the flavour of the yogurt immensely. Some recipes do not do this step, but I highly recommend it!
Place the shanks into the yogurt stew and allow it all to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt.
For the topping or "tasha", fry some crushed garlic in olive oil along with cilantro if desired. I never add cilantro because I'm not a huge fan. Once golden and fragrant, pour the oil and garlic over the stew. Garnish with toasted pine nuts.
How to Serve Shakriyeh
I also love it with a side of vegetables like radish and green onions, or you can make a simple chopped Arabic salad to add vegetables and make it a well rounded meal.
Shakriyeh will keep well in the fridge for 2-3 days. The yogurt will thicken slightly. To re-heat, place it in a small saucepan over the stove on low heat and stir until heated through.
Shakriyeh is not freezer friendly. You can cook the lamb shanks and broth separately and freeze them, then thaw and add to the yogurt stew on the day of serving.
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Syrian Shakriyeh (Lamb & Yogurt Stew)
- 1 Instant Pot See notes for stove top directions
For the Lamb Shanks
- 4 Lamb Shanks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 large yellow onion peeled & quartered
- 4 bay leaves
- 10 green cardamom cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- ½ teaspoon whole allspice
- ½ teaspoon whole cloves
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 8 cups water
For the Yogurt Stew
- 1.5 kg Whole Yogurt (2x 750g Containers)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt more per preference
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 egg
- 2 cups lamb broth more as needed
For the Topping:
- 3 large garlic cloves crushed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro (optional)
- 2 tablespoons dried mint (optional)
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds toasted
To Cook the Lamb Shanks:
- Start by heating the oil in a large pot and searing the lamb shanks on all sides until lightly golden. If you're using an instant pot, you can do this directly in it, on the "SAUTE" function. You can work in batches of 2 shanks at a time.
- Once the shanks are seared, return them all to the pot. Add the quartered onions and the water. Bring to a boil on the "SAUTE" mode of the instant pot.
- Once the water is boiling, you will notice some foam on the surface. Skim off all the foam that forms. Then, add all of the whole spices.
- Instant Pot: Cover the instant pot and switch the knob to "SEALING". Pressure cook on high pressure for 45 minutes.Stove Top: Cover the pot halfway with a lid and boil for 1 to 1.5 hours until the shanks are very tender. Continue to replenish water as needed, ensuring the shanks are mostly covered.
- Allow the instant pot to release pressure naturally for 10 minutes, then manually release all the pressure.
- Remove the shanks from the pot and set aside. Strain the broth to get rid of the onions and the whole spices and set aside.
To Make the Yogurt Stew:
- In a large pot, add the yogurt, cornstarch, egg and salt. Whisk together until all the ingredients are combined, before turning on the stove.
- Place the pot on medium heat and continue to whisk as the yogurt comes up to temperature. It will start to simmer gently within 10 minutes. Keep whisking.
- Once the yogurt is hot and bubbles start to form on the surface, add 2 to 3 cups of the lamb broth and continue to whisk. Add one cup at a time and check the consistency of the yogurt. It should not be too thin, so adjust the amount of broth you add based on the consistency.
- Place the shanks into the yogurt stew and simmer for 10 minutes on medium low heat.
For the Garnish / Topping:
- In a small skillet on medium heat, add the olive oil and heat it. Once hot, add the crushed garlic and stir until lightly golden and fragrant. If using cilantro, add it with the garlic in the last few seconds.
- Pour the garlic and oil over the shakriyeh when you are ready to serve. You can also top with dried mint if you like.
- Serve the shakriyeh alongside vermicelli rice and garnish with toasted pine nuts.
- It is much quicker to cook the lamb shanks in a pressure cooker or instant pot. However, if you don't have one, allow enough time to boil the shanks on the stove top for at least 1.5 hours until tender.
- Using an egg and cornstarch helps to stabilize the yogurt so it does not split. However, if it does split, simply blend it using an immersion blender and it will go back to normal.
- For the topping, you can use garlic with cilantro, or garlic with dry mint. Or omit both and just use garlic.