Lamb and goat are probably the two most common meats eaten in North Africa and much of the Middle East. The two are similar in taste and in texture and very often interchangeable in recipes. While the rich stews such as Moroccan tagines (named after the clay dish in which they are cooked) are normally simmered long and slow for maximum flavor and tenderness, it is entirely possible to capture these flavors in a much more quickly prepared dish by using ground lamb. Although the couscous used in this instance was also quick to prepare, it should be noted that some varieties require to be steeped before they are cooked and a careful check in this respect should be made at the time of purchase.
- 1 pound ground (minced) lamb
- 1 medium sized red onion
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 2 medium size and strength red chilies
- Salt and pepper
- 2¼ cups lamb or chicken stock (1½ cups for stew and ¾ cup for couscous)
- 6 soft, dried apricots
- 3 teaspoons freshly chopped mint leaves (2 teaspoons for stew and 1 teaspoon for couscous), plus extra to garnish*
- ½ cup couscous
*Useful Tip - It's always a good idea with fresh "soft" herb leaves like mint (or particularly basil) to chop them only at the very last minute before they are required to prevent them oxidizing and discoloring. This is simply where the natural juice in the leaves reacts with the air and causes them to darken, affecting presentation if not necessarily flavor.
It would be entirely possible to use already ground cumin powder in this recipe but toasting the seeds in this way and using them immediately does help impart that little bit of extra flavor to the dish. Simply bring a dry frying pan up to a medium heat (no oil or spray of any kind) and add the cumin seeds. Shaking the pan gently and frequently, toast for up to a minute, just until you can see the seeds starting to change color ever so slightly and you can distinctly capture their wonderful aroma.
When the cumin seeds are hot, they are very easy to grind using a traditional pestle and mortar but you could use an electric spice grinder if you prefer.
Pour the olive oil in to a large saucepan. Peel, half and slice the red onion before adding it to the pan and sauteing over a low to medium heat until just softened.
Peel and finely chop the garlic clove and add it to the onion along with the ground lamb.
Saute for a further couple of minutes to evenly brown the lamb before adding the sliced chilies, cumin and salt and pepper. Stir well.
Add the cup and a half of stock to the lamb and bring to a simmer for twenty minutes.
The apricots used in this recipe were dried apricots which had been partly re-hydrated and were sold as a ready to eat snack. They were very roughly chopped in preparation for being added to the lamb. If you are using conventional dried apricots, you should add them to the stew at the same time as the stock.
When the stew has simmered for twenty minutes, much of the stock should have evaporated and it should be thickening nicely. At this stage, add the chopped soft apricots and two teaspoons of freshly chopped mint.
Stir the mint and apricots through the stew and simmer for a further five to ten minutes until the remainder of the stock is largely evaporated.
When the apricots and mint have been added to the stew, pour the remaining three-quarters cup of stock in to a small saucepan and bring to a boil before switching off the heat completely.
Scatter the couscous in to the pot of hot stock that it forms an even layer and none of it remains exposed to the air but do not stir at this stage. If necessary, you could shake the pot slightly to help the couscous settle but be careful not to splash hot stock. Cover the pot and leave it alone for seven to eight minutes for the couscous to absorb the stock.
When the couscous is ready, it will be fairly tightly packed in the bottom of a saucepan. The best way by far to loosen it and fluff it up is with a fork. After this has been done, you should carefully fold through the final teaspoon of mint, again using a fork.
Divide the couscous between two deep serving plates and arrange as beds for the stew. Try not to compact it again as you do so.
A large serving spoon should next be used to spoon the ground lamb stew on to the couscous beds. The last of the chopped mint should be used as a final garnish prior to serving.
Couscous grains are even smaller than grains of rice. For this reason, it is not the easiest of foodstuffs to eat with a fork, especially when the meat component of the dish is ground lamb. It is definitely a good idea therefore to use spoons as eating implements.