Cous-cous is a really handy thing to have in your cupboard. Considered ‘the‘ traditional dish of North Africa, its wide geographical spread across the continent (especially to Morocco and Algeria, where it is known as a national culinary staple) has contributed to its popularity in the West; a result of both cultural assimilation and the increase in travel abroad. Its arrival in the West ought to be celebrated perhaps far more than it is, taking advantage of its versatility as an ingredient without the labour intensity undertaken by traditional producers of cous-cous. In its North African home, cous-cous is made by rolling semolina with water to form the fine, recognisable grains of cous-cous before steaming; whilst most of this is now done by machinery, the previous production by hand conjures amazing images of individuals sitting around for days rolling the semolina in huge batches. Our ability to buy a strand of cous-cous that is ready in a matter of minutes with the addition of only boiling water provides us with a speedier, and healthier, alternative to other carbohydrates such as pasta and rice. And for those reasons we definitely ought to use it more than we do!
It is the cooking process of cous-cous that provides us with a frame for flavour that pasta and rice either do not, or cannot, to the same extent. Whereas a pasta and rice accompaniment will give a plain component to the meal that is complementary whilst ensuring the main focus of the dish remains on the spaghetti, or curry, for example, cous-cous is cooked by, as afore mentioned, the absorption of water. This means that although plain water can be used and the cous-cous serves as a speedier alternative, stock from the dish can too be utilised, manipulating the cous-cous to serve as a tastier alternative as it too shares the flavours of the main dish. In this recipe, the cous-cous absorbs the reduced stock (which has simmered with lamb, garlic, onion and the seasonings), topped up with boiling water and finished with both lemon juice and zest. Fluffing the grains through with all of these fantastic flavours leaves only one question – who is the star of this dish? Arguably, it is the cous-cous.
Ingredients (serves two)
- 4 lamb chops
- Smoked paprika
- 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- ½ bell pepper, cut into squares
- ½ red onion, sliced
- Zest and juice of ½ lemon
- 1 cup of cous-cous to 1.5 cups of liquid
- 250ml vegetable stock
- Fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Lightly pierce the skin of the lamb chops, and season with some smoked paprika and some salt. Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan, and sautee the chops until beginning to brown on both sides. Add the onion and garlic, until soft and golden.
- Stir in the pepper squares, and fry for a further few minutes until soft.
- Add a further sprinkling paprika, and season with black pepper. Pour over the vegetable stock, and add a lid. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for fifteen minutes until it has reduced.
- Lift the lamb chops out of the pan once the sauce has reduced, and keep warm on a plate.
- Take the pan off the heat, and add the cous-cous. Top up the simmered stock with boiling water if necessary, and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Replace the lid on the pan.
- Allow the cous-cous to absorb the water, and then add some butter and stir through to ensure the grains don’t stick together!
- Fluff through chopped parsley after the butter, and some lemon zest.
- Nestle the lamb chops against the cous-cous once served, and squeeze over some more lemon juice and sprinkled parsley.