In heavy skillet or dutch oven, brown lamb shanks in hot olive oil. Remove shanks and set aside.
Saute onion, garlic and spices in oil until onion is soft.
At this point you can transfer the entire dish to the crock pot, or cook it in the dutch oven. Add salt, barley, tomatoes, tomato paste, water (and wine if desired) to shanks. Make sure all the barley is immersed in liquid.
TO BAKE: Cover Dutch oven closely and bake in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours or until shanks are very tender and falling off the bone.
CROCKPOT: Cook the dish on Low for at least 8 hours. I found it easiest to assemble the night before and then just plug in the crockpot when I leave for work in the morning.
In either case, turn off the heat and let the dish sit uncovered for 10-20 minutes. Use a tablespoon and skim off any excess fat from the top before serving.