Corn Couscous with Lamb and Vegetables

Corn Couscous with Lamb and Vegetables

As I have noted on many of my Moroccan posts, Paula Wolfert is responsible for my love of Moroccan food. When I picked up her original Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco cookbook over 20 years ago in the original Sur La Table store at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Washington, I felt a connection to the food and country that I knew so little about.

When Paula announced that she was working on a new Moroccan cookbook, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. But this time my fingers will not physically turn the pages because I am jumping into the 21st century and buying the eBook version. I have run out of bookshelves in my house and made a tough decision that if I wanted another book, I would have to resort to buying the electronic version. So far, I have bought two electronic cookbooks: Encyclopedia of Jewish Food and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. I didn’t invest in an electronic book reader; I downloaded the free reader software for my Mac and I have to say, I rather like the ebooks. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the feel of a book in my hand, but it is really convenient to get a book you want within seconds.

Paula’s latest cookbook, The Food of Morocco, is not available in electronic form until 15 November, but I have pre-ordered it and I cannot wait to scroll through the pages. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait to get my hands on one of the new recipes.

Couscousiere and Sieve

This special recipe deserved to be cooked with the right equipment, so I went to couscous central, Shuk Netanya, to buy my new couscoussière (kiskas in Arabic) and a large sifter to make couscous from scratch. One of these days, I will buy a clay couscous steamer, but the metal one will have to do for now.

This Berber recipe, from the Souss valley in southern Morocco, which is famous for its Argan trees, is a bit unusual if you are not familiar with different types of Moroccan tagines, because the couscous (called kesksou baddaz in Moroccan Arabic) is not made from traditional semolina, but from cornmeal. It calls for mint and cilantro instead of the more conventional combination of cilantro and parsley. Lamb and mint always go well together, and the fresh mint in this dish imparts a wonderful flavor in the meat and goes surprisingly well with the corn couscous.

The only changes I made to this recipe is that I used fresh herbs instead of dried, and made the couscous according to the recipe I learned from my friend Raizy. For a nice fluffy couscous, I would recommend following her recommendations.

Corn Couscous with Lamb and Vegetables

Serving Size: 8

Slightly adapted recipe from the new cookbook The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert.

500 g (1 lb) fresh lamb shoulder, bone in, cut into 4 large chunks


2 peeled garlic cloves,

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 large handful of fresh spearmint (Nana in Hebrew)

1 pinch of hot red pepper

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

For the tagine:

½ cup dried chick peas

1 medium red onion, grated, (about 1 cup)

Argan oil or extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon Moroccan paprika or sweet paprika

Pinch of cayenne

Pinch of dried saffron soaked in 3 tablespoons water

Pinch of ground turmeric

2 sprigs each of fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano or 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup peeled, seeded and diced fresh or canned Roma tomatoes

1 preserved lemon, pulp removed, rinsed and drained

2 cloves

1 dozen sprigs of fresh cilantro

1 dozen sprigs of fresh mint

680g (1-½ lbs) corn grits or polenta

500g (1 lb) carrots

500g (1 lb) purple topped turnips, swedes (rutabagas) or kohlrabi

500g (1 lb) small courgette

1 butternut squash or pumpkin

2 sweet red peppers, cored, seeded, & quartered

1 tablespoon harissa paste

1 tablespoon olive oil, butter, or smen (ghee)

Fresh spearmint leaves for garnish

One day in advance, marinate the meat in a crushed mixture of garlic, spices and salt. Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of water to cover.

The following day, drain the fresh chickpeas, cover with fresh, cold water, and cook, covered, for l hour. Drain, cool, and remove the skins by submerging the chickpeas in a bowl of cold water and gently rubbing them between the fingers. The skins will rise to the top of the water. Discard the skins and set the peeled chickpeas aside. (If using canned chick peas, peel them and set them aside.

Bring the meat to room temperature. Meanwhile, place the onion, 2 tablespoons oil, ginger, paprika, saffron water, turmeric and herbs in a 5 liter (5 quart) casserole set over medium heat. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion dissolves into a puree, about 10 minutes.

Add the meat and slowly brown on all sides. Meanwhile, stud the lemon with cloves, stuff it with the fresh herbs and tie together with a piece of string. Add it to the casserole along with the tomato and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.

Add the chickpeas and cook for 1 more hour, or until the meat is fork tender and the bones are easily removed and discarded.

Meanwhile, follow my instructions for making the couscous here, but follow the measurements in this recipe.

In a wide bowl, toss the grits with 3 tablespoons argan oil or olive oil and then work in a 3/4 cup of cold water. Let rest and ten minutes later moisten with another 3/4 cup of water.

Add the corn grits to the couscoussière, cover and follow my instructions above.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables: peel the carrots and turnips and cut them into 1-1/2 inch lengths. Trim the zucchini ends, halve and cut into 4 centimeter ( 1-½ inch) strips. Peel and cut up the pumpkin in to large chunks.

Add the turnips and carrots to the casserole and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add the pumpkin, courgette and peppers, and continue cooking until all the vegetables are soft, about 25 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Take the casserole off the heat and remove the preserved lemon bundle before serving.

Dump the couscous onto the middle of a large, preferably round, serving dish and moisten it with 2 cups of the broth and olive oil or smen. Fluff the couscous with a fork and form a huge well in the center. With a perforated spoon, transfer the meat and vegetables into the well. Top with sprigs of fresh mint. Serve the remaining broth on the side.

Liddle Lamzy Divey

My father used to sing the Little Lamzy Divey song to us when we went on long driving trips to Florida. I used to love singing that song and it was always one of my requests. The lamb dish I made for Shabbat reminded me of the song.

Mr BT surprised me with dried sour apricots that he bought in a spice shop on Levinsky street in Tel Aviv. Levinsky street is filled with spice shops and delicatessens with delights from Turkey, Greece, Romania, etc. I love cooking sweet and savory dishes with sour apricots because they have a much stronger apricot flavour than Mediterranean apricots. I grew up using sour apricots and was very upset when it became more difficult to find them.

I had some lamb in the freezer begging to be cooked, so I decided to make a deliciously fragrant Moroccan tagine with dried sour apricots and olives. Even if I say so myself, the dish was a triumph.

I used Suri olives, which many people here call Syrian olives, that Mimi from the Israeli Kitchen gave me for this recipe. They are small green, bitter olives, with a large pit that are high in oil content and excellent for producing olive oil. The interesting thing about these olives is they are not Syrian at all, they are actually Lebanese and are named after the town of Tyre (Tzur in Hebrew). Over the years, the pronunciation changed, and it is now pronounced Suri, meaning Syrian in Hebrew. I love their crunchy bitter taste and they were a perfect choice for this dish.

The earliest machinery for crushing olives and the oldest surviving olive trees were discovered in Israel. The oldest olive oil jars, dating back to 6000 BCE, were found in Jericho.

Today, olive groves cover more than 200,000 acres, from the mountains of the Galilee to the Negev desert. The largest concentration of olive groves are in the north of the country. The average harvest for the production of olive oil is about 6,000 tons, but current consumption is double that amount, meaning that we also have to import olive oil, primarily from Spain, Italy and Greece.

Each of the main communities here: Jews, Arabs, Druze and Circassians, cultivate olives. Israeli olive oil is considered to be more aromatic, more strongly flavoured and full of character than the more delicate European olive oils.

Lamb Tagine with Sour Apricots and Olives

4 pounds bone-in lamb shoulder or neck, or 2-1/4 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered

2 cinnamon sticks, each 2 inches long

Large pinch crumbled saffron

1-1/4 cups dried apricots, sliced

1 cup cracked green olives, pitted and sliced if desired

1/3 cup halved almonds, toasted

Cooked couscous, for serving

Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish

Trim excess fat off lamb. Put meat in a deep Dutch oven or cast-iron pot with the garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika, ginger and cumin. Rub spices and garlic evenly all over meat.

Thinly slice onions, then mince enough of them to yield 1/2 cup. Add minced onion to the pot with the lamb; reserve onion slices.

Place the pot over high heat and let cook, turning meat on all sides, until spices release their scent, about 3 minutes. You need not brown the meat. Add 3 cups of water to the pot (it should come 3/4 of the way up lamb), along with cinnamon and saffron. Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot. Braise for 45 minutes.

Turn meat, then top with onion slices. Cover pot and braise for at least another hour and a half, or until lamb is very tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat to a bowl, leaving broth and onions in pot.

Place pot back on the stove over high heat and add 3/4 cup apricots and the olives. Simmer broth until it reduces by a third and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Return the lamb to the pot and keep warm until serving. (Tagine can be prepared 4 days ahead; chill, then remove fat and reheat before serving.)

To serve, chop remaining 1/2 cup apricot slices. Put couscous in a serving bowl and top with almonds and chopped apricots. Pile the tagine in center of couscous and garnish with herbs.


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