Tag Archives: couscous

One for midweek..Moroccan lamb and spinach balls with harissa tomato sauce (couscous and minty yogurt)

Sometimes my decision-making skills seem distinctly lacking. There are times when I endlessly dither over the tiniest details, instead of going with my instincts, until I drive myself (and others mad) with my inability to make up my mind. I know it’s an infuriating trait and its so stupid when I can make monumental life changing decisions, big business choices,  but can’t decide if I want meatballs for dinner or something with some Moroccan spice.

I hope for divine inspiration, umm and ah for a while, running ideas by the boy who seems impressed and so we eventually come up with Moroccan spiced meatballs. Throw in some fresh spinach (which I have in good supply now my local veg box is running again) and there. How easy was that?

A family feast ...Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, couscous and minty yogurt

A family feast …Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, couscous and minty yogurt

Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, harissa tomato sauce (couscous and yogurt with mint): recipe for up to four (although Aidan and I were very hungry after our Sunday run so ate three-quarters of them!)

For the meatballs:

500g lamb mince

100g finely chopped spinach

clove garlic finely minced

2 teaspoons ras al hanout

1 teaspoon cumin

1 egg beaten

zest of 1 lemon

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon oil to fry

For the sauce:

small red onion finely chopped

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon harissa

150ml chicken stock

one dessertspoonful sun-dried tomato paste

salt/ pepper and a pinch of sugar if the sauce seems a bit tart (tinned tomatoes are often quite acidic)


Mix the lamb, spinach, spices, garlic, seasonings, lemon zest and egg in a large bowl. Use your hands to knead it all together so the spices are completely distributed. Form into bite size balls.


Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the lamb balls and fry over a medium heat until nicely brown all over. Remove and keep to one side. Add a little more olive oil if necessary (you will probably find that enough oil remains) and turn the heat down a bit. Add the onion and garlic and sweat gently for about five to ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, harissa, tomato paste and stock and turn the heat up again. Bring to a gentle simmer and return the balls to the pan cooking gently for about 25 minutes, or until the sauce has cooked down and thickened. Check the seasoning adding salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are a bit acidic.

Serve with couscous (try Yotam Ottolenghi’s Green Couscous from his book Plenty it’s an absolute favourite…or make a variation as I did below..

Serves 4

150g couscous
160ml vegetable stock
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
sml tsp ground cumin
3 spring onions, finely sliced
30g rocket, chopped

juice of half a lemon
handful of coriander finely chopped

Place the couscous in a large shallow dish and cover with the stock. Cover the dish with cling film and leave for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, fry the onion in olive oil on a medium heat until golden and completely soft. Add the salt and cumin, and mix well leaving to fry for a minute. Stir onion mixture into the couscous, fluffing up the grains with a fork as you go. Add the remaining ingredients mixing together well.

To finish mix a handful of finely chopped mint into a small bowl of Rachel’s low-fat natural yogurt with a pinch of sea salt.


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Filed under family budget cooking, home cooking, local produce, middle eastern food, Recipes, salads, seasonal food

Bringing the Middle East to North Wales

Merguez is a type of sausage made of lamb (or beef) that forms part of a North African or Middle Eastern diet. Flavoured with a mixture of spices including garlic, ginger, fennel, sumac, coriander, cumin, turmeric its highly aromatic and slightly spicy with added harissa or cayenne.

Anyone walking past the butchers on Wednesday probably caught a whiff of spices roasting in preparation for our next lot of sausages, lamb Merguez. The chorizo sold out in a day (but never fear if you missed out, they are making more as I write) and we wondered how long it would take these to go.

All at the butchers looked on slightly bemused as I hand ground (my spice grinder blew up that morning!) the roasted spices and their scent filled the air with what Paul described as

“memories of turkey”

Johnathan was less convinced. Not being a fan of spiced food he said to me

“are we putting ALL of that stuff in?”

“yep” I replied and he shook his head.

Once all the spices were ground to a powder and we had our Merguez spice base, we minced the lamb and mixed it with garlic and ginger, sumac, tomato and harissa…finally we added the spice powder sprinkling in enough water to produce a good mix.

After working the mixture well by hand we fried off a couple of small patties to check the flavours. Not enough heat was the verdict, although everyone liked the flavour (except Johnathan…he still didn’t look convinced). We added more harissa which added a little heat but accentuated the spices already in the meat.

Soaked sheep casings were filled with the spiced meat mixture and twisted into sausages. Unlike the chorizo they didn’t have to hang for a week; they were simply left overnight (to let the flavours develop) and then moved to the shop ready to sell. I brought a small bag of the leftover meat home with me to try out. It made fantastic burgers.

I cooked my little burgers on a griddle pan and served them with a simple couscous dish (the traditional thing to serve Merguez with), a dressed green salad and some grated cucumber mixed with natural yogurt.


I’m not a very accurate cook and usually just put a few good handfuls..or what I think is enough for the family. Maybe between 250 and 300g tipped into a large bowl. Cover with enough boiling vegetable stock to cover. Put a tea towel over the top and allow to stand for 10 minutes or so.

Taste a few grains after 10 minutes to check they are soft and tender. If they are fluff the rest of the grains with a fork, if not add a little more hot water and cover for another 5 minutes…but be careful not to add too much otherwise it will become too wet.

Stir in a couple of handfuls of raisins, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, some fresh coriander or parsley, the juice of a lemon and some toasted pine nuts. Check seasoning.

Green salad dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil or rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon course grain English mustard


Shake this all together in a sealed jar and pour over the salad. Toss well.



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A late middle eastern summer lunch….and a dessert of spiced poached pears & blackcurrant friande.

When supper club fans Antonia and Gail asked me to run a middle eastern/Ottolenghi inspired cookery session for their friend Liz’s birthday, the one thing they couldn’t predict was the weather. As we approached the end of September in Wales it appeared winter was well on its way, it was becoming rather damp and grim, but just when I’d pulled out those chunky jumpers from the back of my wardrobe, it all changed.

We couldn’t have asked for a more glorious day to cook and what better way to celebrate the beautiful middle eastern/mediterranean theme than lunch served on the sun-baked patio.

I rolled up and took over Antonia’s kitchen at about 9.30 unpacking two crates of equipment, fresh local veg and a plethora of exotic spices commonly used by Ottolenghi in his book Plenty. Z’atar, sumac, nigella seeds, cumin, black sesame, white sesame, smoked paprika, star anise, in their packages lay scattered across the table for my four ‘pupils’ to sniff as we discussed their common uses.

As part of the package I provided printed notes/recipes and working around Antonia’s island we shared the making and preparing of four different salads; a butterbean and rosemary hummus (which has now become my hummus of choice) and carrot and beetroot slaw with nigella and sesame seeds, courtesy of Ellie and Rosie at salad club and a Farro and roasted pepper salad and a green couscous from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, plus his savoury tart tatin. We then made some simple flat bread and a spiced poached pear, blackcurrant friande with amaretto cream all of my own for pudding.

assembling the tatin watched by my 'pupils'!

hands on....removing the charred skin of grilled peppers for the farro salad

Gail enjoying the smell of rosemary, garlic and lemon emanating from the food processor as we made the hummus

Each lady took responsibility for preparing a salad while I tried not to take over, did a lot of washing up and tried to impart some tricks of the trade. I encouraged everyone to taste as we went along commenting on seasoning and flavourings (does it need anything else? Was my frequent question) something that we often forget to do but is very important. The only demo’s I really did were making a caramel for the top of the tatin and its construction and the sponge for the friande.

friandes coming out of the oven

It was a really communal day with a great sense of achievement at the end. Everything worked beautifully; the salads looked fantastic served Ottolenghi style on a big platter, the colours stunning in the lunchtime sun. The breads were beautifully speckled and the tatin sweet and rich. Pudding was sublime!

the table set for lunch in Antonia's garden

The lunch guests arrived to whom the ladies showed off their fantastic creations and Antonia laid the table in the garden. They wanted me to stay for lunch and of course I wasn’t about to refuse…if only could have drunk more wine, but just as we finished it was time for me to nip round the corner to pick Aidan up from school and head off home in the car.

dinner guests arriving

I’m hoping the ladies will have learned a few tips for making quick, easy and striking middle eastern feasts. First; be brave about experimenting with strange ingredients or combinations of spices and then don’t hold back with those spices and seasonings and second, most dishes (even if they seem off-putting because they have lots of ingredients) are actually quite straight forward and totally worth the effort. Personally I am taking notes for the future on how to lead a decadent retirement!!

For the poached pears I used:

800g sugar

400ml water

400ml red wine

Cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla pod and a couple of sprigs of thyme

8 pears

Place the sugar, water, wine and spices in a pan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Peel the pears leaving the stalks on and place in the prepared syrup. Cover and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes until translucent (or pierced easily by a sharp knife or skewer).

Remove from the syrup and place in a serving dish. Boil the syrup hard until reduced by half and syrupy. Spoon over the pears which can be served hot or cold with cream.

The Friande is a light almondy sponge. For mine I used:

200g icing sugar

50g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

130g ground almonds

6 x egg whites

Zest of 2 lemons

2 tsp vanilla essence

170g salted butter, plus extra for greasing

3 tbsp black currants or other berries.

For the Amaretto cream: 250ml double cream, 20g icing sugar, 20ml Amaretto

Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark 6.

Grease eight moulds and dust with flour. Melt the butter.

Sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl and stir in the almonds.

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks then gently fold them into the dry ingredients with a metal spoon and a really light hand. Be careful not to over mix as the air will be lost and the sponges will flop!

Add the lemon zest and fold in the melted butter and vanilla essence, still stirring as lightly as possible. Finally, fold in the fruit.

Fill the prepared moulds and place the friandes in the oven for around 20 minutes until light, well risen and firm when pressed on top with a finger.

To make the Amaretto cream:

Whip the cream with the icing sugar until quite firm then fold in the amaretto. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve so it’s almost like serving ice cream.


Totally sinful, but undeniably blissful!

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A thrifty Sunday lunch of Moroccan inspired lamb and hot chocolate pudding

A typical wet and windy Sunday, at the tail end of January, before the first post-Christmas pay-day and concluding an exceptionally busy week. It was one of those weeks where the kids end up rummaging miserably in the fridge looking for something vaguely interesting to snack on and claiming that there is NOTHING at all to eat

“What will we eat for dinner”? they moaned. I was beginning to wonder the same.

But this is where the skill of being a thrifty cook, with a well stocked larder pays off. In the freezer I often have a supply of meat, mostly lamb or pork which I occasionally buy as half a pig or half a lamb, and which arrives jointed and all ready to be frozen. So for dinner I pulled out a bag of lamb chops, coated them with a few spices and roasted them. This was then paired with the half bag of couscous I found in the cupboard and various ends and odments of peppers, herbs, cucumber and tomato left over in the fridge. The addition of some good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, seasoning and a dollop of yogurt with mint and lo and behold something fragrant and wonderful was created.

To finish off I made mini hot chocolate puddings from various other leftovers and you’d never have guessed that we had an empty fridge!

For 8 lamb chops:

2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 tablespoons coriander, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 2 cloves garlic crushed. Grind together in a pestle and mortar and then rub all over the lamb chops. Lay them in a roasting tin and roast in a medium over 180-200 degrees / gas mark 4 to 6 for about three-quarters of an hour…but keep an eye on them, they should be nicely brown and crisp.

For the couscous:

Take 300g couscous and place in a shallow heat proof bowl with about 500ml boiling water or vegetable stock. Cover with cling film and leave to stand for 10 minutes or so until the water has been absorbed. Add some chopped mint, peppers, cucumber, spring onions, toasted pine nuts, or whatever else you have in the cupboard that you think would go nicely with the couscous.

Hot chocolate puddings:

90g self-raising flour, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder plus and extra 3 teaspoons (I ended up using hot chocolate as I discovered the kids had finished the cocoa and put the pot back empty!!…why do they do that?), 125g caster sugar, 1 egg beaten, 60ml milk, 60g butter, melted in a small pan, 60g soft brown sugar, icing sugar to dust

Grease 4 ramekins with butter and preheat the oven to 180 degrees / gas mark 4. Sift the flour and 1 tablespoon cocoa into a small bowl and add the sugar. Stir in the combined the egg, milk and butter and mix well. Combine the brown sugar and the extra cocoa powder .

Divide the mixture between the four dishes and sprinkle with the combined sugar/cocoa mixture. Put the four dishes on a baking tray and carefully pour 60ml boiling water over the back of a metal spoon over each pudding. Bake the puddings for 15 to 20 minutes until a skewer comes out clean when inserted halfway in. Dust with icing sugar then serve with cream or ice cream.

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