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Lamb Shank and Pearl Barley Soup

This has to be one of the most hearty, delicious soups you can make. I first tried it in a restaurant on the South Coast and searched for ideas to replicate it straight away. I quickly realised it was quite a classic combination and a few options popped up easily. The most important thing to note is you can make this soup with previously cooked, left over lamb shanks e.g. Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Anchovies – preferably well spiced already. Add the shredded meat after the vegetables have softened and it will only keep enriching the flavor – you can’t over cook lamb shanks, they only get better and add more and more to the soup. Feel free to switch the vegetables to your favourites – ie swap the onions for leeks, swap the sweet potato for swede, parsnip, potato but add them at the beginning instead as they will like more cooking. Skip the ones you don’t love. 
It is a very flexible soup, working around the beautiful textures of tender lamb and chewy, golden pearl barley.

Pictured: Lamb Shank and Pearl Barley Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
4 lamb shanks, trimmed of excess fat
1 onion, finely chopped, or 6 spring onions
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 sticks celery, diced
10 button mushrooms, diced
1 tbsp each - ground cumin and ground coriander 
400g can of peeled tomatoes
2 ltrs chicken stock
1 cup pearl barley
2 – 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
salt and pepper
Optional – add some washed and shredded beetroot leaves/kale/spinach in the last few minutes

Heat half the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat and brown shanks evenly; remove.
In a large stock or casserole pot - add onion, garlic, carrot, celery and mushrooms and cook 3-4 minutes or until vegetables have softened. Stir in cumin and coriander and cook for a further minute or until fragrant. 
Pour in tomatoes and 1 cup of the stock and the lamb; stir.
Bring to the boil; reduce heat, half cover and simmer 2 hours or until meat is falling off the shanks. Season well with salt and pepper.
Once the lamb shanks are tender, remove them from soup and shred meat coarsely. Return to soup and mix well.  Add the remaining stock and pearl barley and simmer for ½ hour. Add more liquid if the soup is too thick. Add the Sweet potato in the last 10 minutes.
Divide soup amongst four large soup bowls and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4 - 6