When I first worked in London, there was a Kebab shop close to us in Soho that we would often frequent after a few post-work beers. Although the kebab meat was carved from a large rotisserie, it didn’t resemble the processed 'elephant leg' that often gives kebabs a bad name. Without asking, the kebabs were dressed with an off-white coloured sauce that tasted heavenly with the lamb. Back then, I was too shy to ask for it’s name and in later years I had several embarrassing (probably drunk) conversations in other kebab shops asking for the mysterious white sauce. It was only when I discovered Tahini that it all became clear and my obsession with lamb and tahini was cemented.
This recipe is super easy to make and the combination of flavours are amazing. Ras el Hanout is a spice blend that’s used across North Africa and literally means, ‘head of the shop’ – referring to the shops best spices. Our Ras el Hanout paste tastes amazing on lamb, but it’s equally good on chicken, beef or fish. In this recipe I’m grilling the lamb chops and the finishing them with a glaze of pomegranate molasses and honey.
I’ve eaten some truly awful couscous dishes, bland, dry and generally unappetising. You have to treat couscous like a blank canvas and hit it with plenty of flavour – herbs, spices, different textures and tastes that turns the simple little grain into a masterpiece in its own right.
Ingredients for the Tahini Sauce Serves 4 3tbsp Tahini Paste 1 Clove of Garlic Juice of 1 Lemon 3tbsp water Salt
Ingredients for Spiced Couscous Serves 4 125g Couscous 1tsp Green Cardamom Pods 1tsp Coriander Seeds 1tsp Ground Cumin ½tsp Ground Cinnamon 1tsp Hot Smoked Paprika 50g Flaked Almonds, toasted under the grill 2 x Medium Courgettes, chopped into ½ inch dice 1 x Red Chilli, sliced (keep the seeds if you like the extra heat) 1 x Red Onion, finely diced 1 x 200g Jar of Piquello Peppers 1 x 400g Can of Chickpeas 1 x Bunch of Fresh Coriander 1 x Bunch of Fresh Parsley ½ Bunch of Fresh Mint 300ml Vegetable stock
The first job is to get the lamb marinating in the ras el hanout – this paste can need a little working to loosen it up. I use my hands to get all those beautiful spices worked really well into the meat. If you can, try to give the lamb at least half an hour of marinating – the longer the better and if you can leave it overnight, it will be amazing.
Next, start getting the couscous ready. Boil a kettle and mix up the vegetable stock, using a cube or powder bouillon is fine. You want the stock to be warm, not boiling, when you come to add it to the couscous. Pour your dry couscous into a large mixing bowl. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the cardamom pods until you can easily open them up and release the little black seeds. Discard the outer green pod – it’s a little fiddly but shouldn’t take too long. Next add in a teaspoon of coriander seeds and give them both a good grind up. Add the ground up spices to the couscous along with the cumin, cinnamon and smoked paprika and a good pinch of salt. Pour over the warm vegetable stock until the couscous is completely covered with a shallow layer of stock. Depending on your mixing bowl, the amount of stock can vary, but as long as everything is nicely covered, all will be good. Leave this to soak for around 10 – 15 minutes.
Whilst the lamb is marinating and the couscous is soaking, it’s time to make the two dressings.
For the tahini sauce, simply combine the tahini paste with the crushed garlic, lemon juice and salt and whisk in the water, a little at a time, until it resembles the consistency of thick double cream. You can do this well in advance, it will also keep well covered in the fridge for a few days.
It’s really important to dress your couscous to avoid the dry, claggy experience we’ve all had. To make the dressing, peel and roughly chop two cloves of garlic and using a pestle and mortar, pound them into a paste with the salt. Add the cider vinegar and keep on grinding everything up. Now whisk in the pomegranate molasses, then slowly add the olive oil, whisking all the time, until the dressing starts to thicken up. Again, this can be done well in advance and kept until you come to dress the couscous right at the end.
Now you’re ready to prep the final bits. Toast the flaked almonds under the grill, just being careful not to burn them. Slice the courgettes length ways in two and then slice them again length ways into quarters, then chop them into bit size chunks. Get a pan nice and hot, add a little rapeseed oil and fry the courgettes, adding a little salt and pepper as they cook. You want them nicely brown, so don’t sir them round in the pan, just leave them and give the pan a shake every so often. Once the courgettes are nearly cooked through, add in the sliced red chilli, turn of the heat, and leave them in the pan until you’re ready. Slice up the piquillo peppers into strips and chop up all the herbs.
Now it’s time to cook the lamb, it’s best to get everything started on the stove and then finish them in the oven, so get your oven turned on to 180°C. Heat up a pan, add the rapeseed oil and fry the lamb chops. It’s important not to burn the spices on the meat, so once the lamb has been in the pan for about 30 seconds, turn the heat down the a gentle sizzle. Whilst the lamb is cooking away, mix up the glaze – 1tbsp of pomegranate molasses and 1tbsp of honey. Once the chops have been in the pan for 3 or 4 minutes, turn them over and using a pastry brush, give them a nice coating of your glaze. Keep cooking for 3 or 4 more minutes, turn them over again and give the other side a glaze as well. Whack the pan into to the oven now for about 4 or 5 minutes, just to finish cooking them through. Leave them to rest for 4 or 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, finish off the couscous. Using a fork, fluff up the soaked couscous, then add in all your prepped ingredients – your pan fried courgettes, diced red onion, toasted almonds, sliced up piquillo peppers, drained chickpeas and chopped herbs. Give them a gentle mix and then add your pomegranate dressing and mix through again.
That’s it, done. Pile up the couscous on each plate, top with 2 or 3 chops and drizzle over the tahini sauce. Amazing, this is a real crowd pleaser.
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