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Couscous with Lamb & Vegetables

Ben Fink

Yield: Yields 12 cups couscous and 1-1/2 cups harissa.

Servings: ten.

Though most of us are used to the quick-cooking method of soaking couscous in boiling water, this authentic Moroccan method of steaming and fluffing three times by hand yields plumper, more tender grains that are worth the extra effort. Look for couscous in bulk at Middle Eastern markets or else use any packaged couscous in the supermarket. You can make the broth up to two days ahead.


For the lamb broth:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus 3 Tbs. for sautéing
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • Large pinch saffron (about 30 threads or 1/2 tsp., lightly packed)
  • 1 Tbs. ground ginger
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. ground coriander
  • 1 Tbs. paprika
  • 2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper; more for the shanks
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt ; more for the shanks
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
  • 3 lb. lamb shanks (2 or 3 shanks)
  • 2 tomatoes, cut in large dice
  • 2 small turnips (or 2 parsnips), peeled and cut in large dice
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 sprigs each of fresh cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, tied with kitchen twine

For the harissa:

  • 2 roasted (or grilled) red bell peppers, skinned, stemmed, and seeded
  • 5 dried red chiles, soaked in hot water for 20 min., drained, stemmed, and seeded (reserve the seeds)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the couscous and seasoned water:

  • 2 cups flour mixed with 2 cups water, to seal the pot
  • 1-1/2 lb. (4 cups) couscous
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Large pinch saffron (about 30 threads), crushed or pulverized
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • One 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon; more as needed
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter

For the caramelized onions:

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt to taste (about 1 tsp.)
  • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 cup golden raisins

For the vegetables:

  • 8 baby carrots, peeled (or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces)
  • 1 large sweet potato (8 oz.), peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 1 lb. winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 medium white cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces (4 cups)
  • 6 baby eggplant (or 1/2 medium globe eggplant), cut in 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 4 small zucchini (12 oz. total), halved lengthwise and cut in 1-inch pieces

Nutritional Information

  • Nutritional Sample Size based on ten servings
  • Calories (kcal) : 930
  • Fat Calories (kcal): 350
  • Fat (g): 39
  • Saturated Fat (g): 7
  • Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 4
  • Monounsaturated Fat (g): 26
  • Cholesterol (mg): 40
  • Sodium (mg): 1040
  • Carbohydrates (g): 122
  • Fiber (g): 12
  • Protein (g): 28


Make a savory lamb broth:

  • In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the olive oil with the onions, spices, salt, and garlic; mix well.
  • Heat the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Season the shanks with salt and pepper and brown them on all sides (in batches, if necessary). Reduce the heat to medium and add the seasoned onion mixture, stirring occasionally, until the spices release their flavors and aromas, about 5 minutes.

  • Add the tomatoes, turnips, and red pepper, stir to coat, and cook until the tomatoes are soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the bay leaf and tied herbs and then add water to cover by 1 inch (10 to 12 cups). Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lamb pulls off the bone easily, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours. Transfer the lamb to a platter and cover with foil. Continue simmering the broth until it’s full-flavored and reduced to about 8 cups. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Discard the tied herbs, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick. Spoon off the fat that collects on the surface.

Make the harissa:

  • Coarsely chop the roasted peppers and put them in a blender. Add the chiles (but not the seeds), garlic, cumin, coriander, and salt. With the blender running, pour in the olive oil in a stream until the mixture becomes smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer the harissa to a bowl and stir in the chile seeds.

Prepare to steam the couscous:

  • In a medium bowl, mix the flour and water to make a thin paste; set aside. Cut a three-inch-wide strip of cheesecloth long enough to wrap twice around the rim of your couscoussière (a colander that rests snugly over a stockpot can stand in for a couscoussière).
  • Put the couscous in a very large bowl or a roasting pan. Cover the grains with cold water, swishing to remove the starch. Drain immediately. Let the couscous rest for 5 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, make the seasoned water by mixing the oil, saffron, turmeric, cumin, salt, pepper, and 3 cups of water. Fill the stockpot (or the couscoussière) with 2 inches of plain water (which shouldn’t touch the bottom of the colander); bring to a boil.

  • As the plain water is heating up, scoop up some of the couscous with your hands and rub the grains together lightly to separate them and break up any lumps. The couscous will feel dry. Sprinkle on a bit of the seasoned water and continue to separate and fluff the couscous with your hands, letting the grains rub against one another and dribble back into the bowl. Sprinkle on a bit more of the liquid and continue rubbing so the couscous starts to feel moist but not wet (no liquid should accumulate in the bowl); you’ll use about 1/2 cup of the liquid.

Steam and fluff the couscous:

  • Set the colander over the simmering water. Sprinkle the couscous into the colander (or the couscoussière steamer) without pressing on the grains.

  • Wet the long strip of cheesecloth, then dip it in the flour-water paste. Wrap the soaked cheesecloth twice around the gap between the colander and the stockpot to seal. Cook until steam appears through the entire surface of the couscous, 10 to 20 minutes.

  • While the couscous is steaming, heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium high. Add the sliced onions, cinnamon, pepper, salt, sugar, and raisins. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes; set aside.

  • Reduce the heat on the couscoussière to very low. Carefully unwrap the hot cheesecloth strip. Dump the couscous into the large bowl; break up clumps with a spoon. When the couscous is cool enough to handle, fluff again as described above, moistening it gradually with about 1 cup of the liquid. Repeat the steaming and fluffing a second time.

  • As the couscous steams for the second time, bring the lamb broth back to a boil and add the carrots, sweet potato, and squash. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the cabbage and eggplant. Simmer the vegetables for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pull the lamb meat off the shanks, discarding the fat and bones. Cut the lamb into bite-size pieces. Add the zucchini to the broth and simmer until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more. Return the lamb to the broth to moisten and reheat it. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed.

To finish the dish:

  • After fluffing the couscous a second time, return it to the couscoussière and steam for a third and final time. Dump the couscous into the large bowl or pan and break up clumps with a spoon. Stir in the chickpeas, raisins, cinnamon, and butter. When the couscous is cool enough to touch, moisten and season the grains with about 1 cup of the lamb broth, using the same rubbing technique as before.
  • Heap the couscous on a platter. Clear a hole in the center by pushing the grains toward the perimeter. With a slotted spoon, arrange the lamb and vegetables in the center, leaving some of them in the broth. Serve with the harissa, the caramelized onions, and individual bowls of broth, which people can sprinkle on their couscous to their taste.


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Reviews (3 reviews)

  • paprikacannelle | 11/07/2017

    This was my first time attempting couscous at home. Thank for the painstaking details: the results were well worth the effort. Due to a lack of time, I made two shortcuts: I skipped the homemade harissa for store-bought, and I didn't attempt steaming the couscous grains. Rather, I simply poured 3 tbsp amounts of the hot, seasoned water to the couscous grains (which I had first rubbed with the olive oil). After each addition of water, I rubbed the grains until the water had been absorbed. After 3 rounds, the couscous was ready. I'm not sure this will work for everyone, but the results were far better than the quick cooking method I've relied on in the past. Many thanks again for sharing this gem of a recipe!

  • Laboutinais | 08/30/2016

    First time I have made traditional couscous - my French friend gave me some meat after they slaughtered a lamb and she'd written 'couscous' on the bag. In fact when she said "I've got some couscous in the freezer for you" I thought she was giving me a ready meal LOL I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I said I'll find a recipe on the web and why don't you join us?Thank you for posting this recipe!! Not as complicated as it first appears especially if you print it out and laminate it. The evening was a total success thanks to this recipe. The flavours are wonderful, very complex and interesting. The couscous was sooooo much better cooked this way.Many thanks

  • NeldaSoderblom | 09/23/2008

    Absolutely wonderful. A lot of work (as he mentions in the article). I have made this recipe several times over the past few years. Very good this time of year (autumn/winter). Definitely something to enjoy with friends and/or family.

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