Fine Detail


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:Assorted Vegetables

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 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.

NOTES:

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.

16 thoughts on “Fine Detail

  1. This is the perfect way to eat all those veggies I’ve been missing out on! I love the colorful array of festive autumn colors, as well. Your blog is not only a recipe channel, but an avenue of keen creativity!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for the compliment, Tamara!

      So glad you noticed this! Sure, selecting the recipe starts the process, but finding the right setting is crucial too. What’s in season this time of year (whenever that happens to be), what shows off the atmospherics to advantage, and vice-versa?

      Most important is you. It’s the reader who inspires, and who then starts great conversations. That’s why we’re here, right?

      Without you, it’s just a person cooking. One person, common enough to be listed among billions. It’s you who distinguishes the project.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it, though? Enhancing that, thanks much for your kind comment, Jenn!

      Timing is no accident. When the recipe was selected, a year or so ago now, that warmth, both in color and in substance, seemed the perfect antidote to summer’s flight. Do your worst, Equinox, because here we bask in North African sunshine…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I cannot detail the beautiful imagery in my comments as you do with your feedback on my site. But, your blog is a vault of edible poetry suitable for the most fastidious tastebuds worldwide. I appreciate your every word and thought on my site as it enriches every reader’s experience, including my own!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why, thank you, Tamara. Oh, your regard is heady stuff! It produces a nice buzz, with nary a drop of booze in sight.

      Both our commentaries, mine and yours, reflect our ideals, our souls. Yours, though, rises superior in its warmth and in its enthusiasm. Think of what this says of our respective personalities.

      My hope is that what you and other readers find here is broadly appealing, as everyone needs to eat after all. The idea is to take that universality and to give voice to its underlying stylishness.

      We’ve become so fractured, broken into countless antagonisms of race, region and religion. Seething divisions, which questions of nationality and politics cleave ever-more-deeply. May our gatherings here rise above them.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, Tamara.

      At year-end, I hope to start rebuilding the numbers lost over the last year or so. That’ll come at a price, though, as some of those newcomers will be trolls, just as you suggest, and as others have warned too.

      Some troublemakers will stop by just to play “Gotcha!,” while others will assail my “expropriation” of another people’s cooking. It’s coming, and I’ve been trying to thicken my skin in anticipation.

      What will gratify, though, is the vast majority of additions, who will be curious and friendly. More than that, Tamara, I’m grateful for all the help and advice you’ve offered. You’ve moved the process along so more that I ever would’ve managed by myself. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A great winter dish. Living in Florida for so long I forgot about the importance of warm hearty food when it gets cold. Now that I’m visiting in Idaho and it’s getting dreadfully chilly I’m reminded once again of just how important this is!

    I’m curious about the Moroccan couscous. I’ve had couscous in restaurants that I loved but when I make it at home it’s never the same. Admittedly, I’ve never really experimented with it too much though and admittedly I did not know there were different kinds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, JoAnn, for sure! Winter’s #1 draw, in my mind, is coziness. Were it not for a warm kitchen on a snowy day, I’d be with you, a coconut-throw from the equator.

      As couscous is made from ground durum wheat (i.e., semolina), its size depends on how fine a grind is involved. Restaurants achieve a unique quality because they’re producing couscous in massive amounts. Thus, they can pursue the elaborate process of soaking-drying-steaming involved. Something which is thoroughly impractical for the home cook.

      Plus, as restaurants likely have a much more direct connection to “The Old Country,” they probably have access to special varieties of semolina we don’t.

      Nonetheless, profound compliments for trying it, even! “She’s such a foodie, she makes her own couscous….”

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s