African Lamb Couscous from Mauritania

[Couscous] [About Couscous] [Couscousiers] [Lamb] [Tajine, Tchicha and Sellou] [Tunisian Fish Ball Tagine] [Harissa] [North Africa Magreb: Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria] [Ethnic] [Lee's Recipes]

You might encounter this type of sweet/savory dish all over north west Africa, where it is as likely to be made with goat or camel meat as with lamb. The vegetables will be whatever is available.

Yield: 6 -8 servings


2 lb. lamb, cut into sm. chunks
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 turnips, peeled and chopped
4 carrots, sliced
3 sm. potatoes, quartered
1 cup cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 winter squash, peeled and chopped, or 1 cup pumpkin, chopped
2 md. tomatoes

2 lb. dry couscous grain
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup raisins
8 oz. chickpeas, pre-cooked
1/4 cup butter or olive oil



Stew: In a large stew pot that has a tight fitting lid, brown the meat by stirring quickly in hot oil or butter. Reduce heat and sauté the onions and garlic until golden. Add vegetables, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes. Cover with about 2 cups water, put the lid on the pot, and simmer until vegetables are tender and meat is cooked.

Mix the dates, raisins, and pre-cooked chickpeas into the dry couscous, and steam. Serve by ladling the stew over couscous on individual plates. Serves 6 to 8.

Couscous: There are several ways of steaming and softening this form of semolina wheat that is a base for north African stews. The preferred method is to use a couscousier.

If you don’t have a couscousier here is a method. Get dry couscous grain in an ethnic or gourmet grocery or a natural foods store. Allow 2 oz. per person for a meal.

Pour the couscous into a large bowl and cover it with cold water. Stir, and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Then scrape the damp grain out onto a clean absorbent cloth such as a linen dish towel. (If all the water hasn’t been soaked up, you should drain it off first.) Leave the grain to swell for 15 minutes. If you prefer, you can leave the grains in the bowl, but as they are more confined, they may not become quite as fluffy.

Now you must find a way to steam the couscous. A colander that will sit part way down into a pot, without sinking to the bottom, can become a homemade couscousier. But if your colander, like most, has holes too large to prevent the couscous grains from falling through, you must line it with a clean, porous cloth (cheesecloth) When everything is ready, bring water in the pot to a boil, and steam the couscous, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Now the couscous must swell and steam a second time, but with slight variations. Once again, put it into a bowl or onto the towel. Sprinkle cold water over it—perhaps half a cup for every pound of couscous—and rub grains between your fingers to break up any lumps that have formed. After it has sat for 10 minutes, rub some oil onto your hands and rework the grains with your fingers. (For special occasions, use butter to grease and separate the grains.)

Finely, steam the couscous for 25 more minutes, and serve hot.

There is nothing complicated about this process, but it does take some time.

If it sounds too ambitious, try the packaged, pre-cooked grain that is widely available where couscous is sold and follow the simple directions on the box. True connoisseurs argue, no doubt that you will never know what real couscous tastes like unless you steam your own. The “instant” kind is acceptable though.

Source: The Africa News Cookbook: African Cooking for Western Kitchens by Africa News Service, Inc. 1986
Posted on line at "African Lamb Couscous from Mauritania"

September 12, 2010