That’s where it matters, in the little things that combine to bring greatness. None greater, and none littler, than the fine-grained Moroccan couscous that underlies today’s offering, Moroccan Lamb and Seven-Vegetable Couscous. From this fluffy and buttery base rises an immensely satisfying stew spirited to culinary paradise by a whole Kasbah-worth of subtle, haunting, North African spices.
No wonder Fine Cooking chose this to grace the pages of its October/November 2019 number. The spices alone evoke tantalizing mounts of treasure for sale in a vibrant marketplace at the far end of the Spice Road – coriander, cumin, pepper and saffron.
Then, of course, is the combination that tops them all, ras-el hanout, a signature North African blend of cinnamon, three different kinds of pepper, and other more mysterious ingredients from afar. Ras-el hanout is Arabic for “front of the store” and it represents the best, what a spice merchant would display proudly to show the quality of his wares, as well as to entice shoppers.
The morning was spent acquiring spices, and gathering vegetables will take the afternoon. As the name suggests, seven vegetables go into the stew, making it a ratatouille of sorts, from just across the Mediterranean. Selecting the squashes, chickpeas, carrots, turnip, onion and eggplant will send one scurrying back-and-forth across the Kasbah. Here are most of those ingredients, cubed and ready to go, minus the zucchini and chickpeas, which join the pot later in the cooking process:
Also present are dried cranberries, which replace the raisins the original recipe specifies. Cook’s preference, and a good one at that. Cranberries aren’t particularly Moroccan, though nor, ultimately, are the squashes and tomatoes that also populate the dish. All part of the New World bounty that soon nourished global cuisines. Besides, the spices come from all over; why not the vegetables too?
Is all the scrounging worth it? Do Moroccan cooks produce a winner? Most definitely. Those spices – lyrical, mystical, magical – already have been described, though also worth mentioning is the flavor and succulence the lamb and vegetables give each other as they cook. The mouth waters from just the aroma alone. Then, a fine companion, in more ways than one, is the couscous. Buttered and mixed with minced cilantro, it unifies the other ingredients and it makes this a profoundly North African stew, all resting on the finest Moroccan couscous:
Moroccan Lamb and Seven-Vegetable Couscous
- 2 pounds boneless lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-and-1/2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ras-el hanout (*1)
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- 2-and-1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
- 2 large carrots, cut into 2-inch lengths and larger pieces halved
- 1 large turnip, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8-ounce squash, such as acorn or butternut, or a pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (*2)
- 1/3 cup raisins (*3)
- 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1-and-1/2 cups couscous (*4)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more, not chopped, for garnish
Sprinkle the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Place a stockpot over a medium-high flame and add the oil. When it shimmers, add the meat in a single layer, working in batches so as not to crowd the meat. Sear about two minutes per side, then transfer to a plate, adding more oil to the pot between batches if needed.
Lower the flame to medium-low and return the lamb to the pot, along with any accumulated juices. Add the ground coriander, ground cumin, ras-el hanout and saffron, tossing to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about two minutes.
Add the tomatoes and the broth. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook thusly for 45 minutes.
Add the carrots, turnip, eggplant, squash, onion and raisins. Reduce flame to low and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about fifteen minutes. Add the zucchini and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini softens, about ten minutes. Add the chickpeas and stir gently to combine. Continue cooking for five minutes. Add a tablespoon of the butter and stir in until melted. Cover and turn off the heat.
Prepare the couscous according to package instructions, using the remaining teaspoon of salt and tablespoon of butter. Just before serving, toss the couscous with the chopped cilantro.
Mound couscous onto a platter, top with the stew and garnish with cilantro.
1 – If you can’t find ras el-hanout, substitute 1/3 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground pepper and ground cumin. Not quite the same, but close.
2 – A large shallot would be even better.
3 – Um, no. Dried cranberries are much better. As mentioned in the intro above, we abandoned the “purely Moroccan” playlist the moment Columbus bumped into the Americas half a millennium or so ago.
4 – Use Moroccan couscous if it’s available. The fine texture matches this, well, Moroccan dish quite nicely.