Lamb Stew


In this recipe I'm not after a particularly spicy broth, but an intriguing one. Harissa is the optional ingredient that adds fire. Harissa is a condiment, a spicy chili paste you can find in Middle Eastern groceries and some upscale supermarkets. A small can will be more than enough.

You can use harissa a couple of ways. One way is treat it like a condiment—put a spoonful on the side of your plate and dab it on meat and vegetables as you eat. Another is to mix a couple teaspoons of harissa with a cup of stew broth and stir it into your plate the way you add milk to coffee.

This recipe generously serves 4, with some broth and vegetables left over (good as soup)

  • Vegetable oil
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 1 1/2 c. diced onions
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 or 4 bay leaves
  • 1 big potato or sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 carrots, cut into short sticks
  • Salt
  • 2 zucchini, cut into thick wheels
  • 1 big bell pepper, large dice
  • 1 16-oz can garbanzo beans, drained
  • Harissa


  • 3/4 cup couscous
  • 3/4 cup water or stew broth (for moistening, step 3)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Use high heat and a little oil to brown as many sides of the lamb as possible. Set the lamb aside and brown the onions, then turn down the heat and add the garlic and spices. Let them cook for about 5 minutes to get toasty, but don't let them burn.
  2. Add the chicken broth, water, tomato paste, bay leaves, and lamb shanks. Bring to a boil, then back to a simmer. Cover and forget about it.
  3. After about 45 minutes, add the potato and carrots. Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes.
  4. Start preparing the couscous.
  5. Salt the broth to taste, then add the zucchini, peppers, and garbanzo beans. Cover and simmer until all the vegetables are quite soft—another 20 minutes or so.
  6. When the couscous is ready, put it in one bowl and the stew in another. The lamb shanks can in the bowl of stew or passed separately, whatever is easier. Mix a couple teaspoons of harissa with a cup of stew broth or just put the harissa out and let people put a bit on the side of their plates.
Steaming Couscous

This is it, a traditional way to prepare couscous. Steaming is not so much a recipe as a method. While it looks complicated, steaming actually folds nicely into the process of making the stew.

Before you go into the kitchen, there are three things I'd like you to keep in mind. 1) Steam has to do the work—if boiling water touches the pasta, it gets mushy. 2) Don't worry about couscous falling through the holes of the steamer, it won't. And 3) Couscous isn't fragile. You can be pretty aggressive about breaking up clumps.

In my experience, these proportions make ample couscous for 4 people.

  • 3/4 cup couscous
  • 3/4 cup water or stew broth (for moistening, step 3)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

You need a fine wire mesh strainer and a pot with a steamer insert (not the collapsible kind that sits on the bottom, but an insert that fits on the pot) and a lid.

  1. Rinse and rest—Put the couscous in a fine strainer and rinse it. Let the couscous drain well, then dump the damp couscous in a large mixing bowl. Let it rest for about 10 minutes. During this time it will swell a little.
  2. Steam—Bring some water or stew broth to a boil. Break up the couscous and put it in the steamer. Cover and steam for about 20 minutes.
  3. Moisten and rest—Dump the couscous back into the bowl. Use the side of a fork to break up any clumps. Then sprinkle the couscous with water (or stew broth) and salt. Stir and let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes. At this point, you can cover the couscous—just so it doesn't dry out—and set it aside until you are ready to serve.
  4. Steam and serve—Bring the water or stew broth back to a boil and dump the couscous back into the steamer. Cover and steam for 15 minutes. Serve.

Don't worry about the couscous that sticks to the steamer. After a few minutes it dries up and wipes away like sand. For the couscous that inevitably gets stuck in the holes...I let that dry as well, then use a skewer or toothpick to punch it out.

All the couscous you'll find is the same. In spite of labels, there isn't an "instant" as opposed to an "old-fashioned" kind. For the best price, find a store that sells it in bulk.


Couscous Recipes


This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007

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