Sunday, October 17, 2010

Recipe: North African Meal - Peasant Stew, Grilled Lamb Merguez and Lemon Cous Cous

This is a post that has been in my drafts for quite awhile. Finally got around to getting it together.

I'd just come home after a 10 day trip. And normally when I take long trips I use up all the fresh ingredients in my pantry that won't last the duration, like tomatoes, fresh veggies and herbs. Onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes last reasonably well, so I leave a few of them for a meal when I return. And I head to the markets the day I get back to re-stock.

However when I returned from this trip, the cat was so excited to see me back, that I didn't have the heart to leave her to visit the market that day and had to make do with whatever I had at home.
There were some Lamb Merguez sausages in the freezer and this prompted me to cook a North African influenced meal. Fortunately, I had some instant Zesty Lemon couscous that had been gifted to me and I knew that would be a great combination. Now Couscous is a dish which can absorb huge quantities of liquid, so I knew I wanted a stew rather than a curry.

For inspiration, I remembered the lovely, simple yet homely stews we ate at Berber run outlets in Siwa on the edge of the Great Sand Sea in Egypt and while we were in Morocco. I knew I wanted a simpler style rather than a restaurant dish. So the best option was a peasant stew. With a base of onions and tomatoes and then, whatever other vegetables were in season. I've had stews with cauliflowers and beans and radishes and turnips, so you can add just about any vegetable you like. It can be completely vegetarian if you like. But since I was grilling the Merguez sausages, I used the fat from the pan roasted sausages as a starter and chopped up 2 of them and put them back into the stew

I had potatoes and carrots and onions, no tomatoes and no tomato paste either. So I used ketchup. I would really prefer to use fresh tomatoes though.

3 medium onions quarterd and then into half, so it forms little triangles
3 medium tomatoes chopped  like the onions(or a few tbsps of tomato ketchup or 2 tbsp tomato paste)
6-12 cloves garlic sliced (depending on your taste)
3 medium potatoes cubed
2 carrots chopped to the same size as the potatoes
(Kim's Note: You can use any combination of vegetables to form the volume equal to 3 potatoes and 2 carrots)
2 tsps Harissa (increase or decrease according to taste)
Salt to taste
A few pieces of meat or chopped up sausages (optional) - 100-200gms
1 tsp olive oil

Since I had the sausages, I first pan fried the sausages in the same pan that I planned to make the stew in.
After taking out the sausages, I used that fat to fry the garlic.
You can just start with the olive oil and fry the garlic in that.
Add the onions and the tomatoes and fry for a few minutes till the onions turn transluscent.
Add salt and harissa.
If using meat, add it at this stage and fry till the meat is semi cooked. Deglazing with water when necesarry.
Add potatoes and enough water to boil in and simmer till almost cooked.
Add carrots and stew some more, adding more water if required.
(Kim's Note: Remember every vegetable has its own cooking time, so add them in decreasing order of time needed to cook)
Bring to a boil.
The stew is now ready to be served into bowls and can be mopped up with Eish, pita bread, injeera or any of the other types of breads eaten in Africa. You can even eat it with a baguette or Italian bread, but they don't soak up as much liquid.Indian rotis are not a good combination for the same reason. It can be eaten with steamed rice, idiappams, dosas or appams though.
Since the couscous I had was of the instant variety, I just had to pour hot water and wait for a few minutes before I could plate it.
It already had a few herbs in it, so I hadn't added any herbs into the stew, allowing the spicing to come from the harissa. All that was left, was to plate up and serve.
The combination of the slightly tart couscous, the smoky flavour of the sausages and the sweet and spicy stew was awesome. I would also serve some harissa on the side for those who would like to make their stew spicier.

If you don't have access to Merguez sausages, don't use regular cocktail or frankfurter sausages, they just won't work. You need a sausage that has a smoked herby flavouring. Chorizo could work, but its spices could clash with the harissa. So taste them individually before pairing them.
Don't use the cheesy varieties, you want a more down to earth, smoky sausage.
You actually don't need sausages, but they do go well with this combination.
You can use any regular plain couscous and cook it with herbs of your choice. If you don't add lemon to your couscous, add a little to the stew for a bit of tartness in the combination.

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