Sunday, October 30, 2011

Moroccan lamb stew with lemon and pomegranate couscous

Today my father in law came over to our house for lunch. He originally wanted to go out to eat couscous and lamb in a restaurant he had heard of, but when he tried to make a reservation it was closed.

My father in law grew up in Libya, a country we have heard of so much lately in the news, back in the day when it was an Italian colony. I love hearing stories of his years there, before the new regime confiscated everything they owned, of how he lived as a child on acres and acres of farm land to later move to Tripoli, then a bustling, cosmopolitan city, to finish his schooling and attend University. 

His parents had tried and failed to become parents several times before he was born and he came very late for the standards of those days. I wonder what it must have been like for his mother to live so far away from her family in Sicily and how lonely it must have been there without children to rear for so many years. I like to imagine the pride and joy she must have felt when she took a ship back to her hometown (the baby must be born in Italy!) to finally give birth to a healthy little boy, sorrounded by clucking sisters, aunts, cousins.

Despite being born in Sicily and living in Italy for most of his adult life, my father in law grew up speaking Arabic and soaking up the culture of his surroundings. To this day couscous and lamb stew are his comfort food.

How could I deny him this pleasure?

The ripe and juicy pomegranate I had bought last week as a part of my centerpiece for another dinner inspired me to look up recipes that included it. This recipe turned out to be the perfect combination of a fruity, fresh couscous and a fall-off-the-bone tender, fatty lamb cooked in a tomato-based stew filled with the warm flavors of North African cuisine.

Recipe adapted from BBC Food Recipes


For the lamb stew
4 tbsp olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 onions, peeled and chopped
4 tsp grated fresh ginger
1½ tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
3 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper
about 3kg/7lb assorted lamb pieces with bone (the original recipe is for a tagine with boneless diced meat)
2 tbsp tomato purée
4 cans (400gr each) of coarsely chopped tomatoes
4 tbsp of honey

For the couscous
1 pomegranate
800 gr/1 3/4 lb instant couscous
6 tbsp olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 l boiling water or chicken stock
fresh mint, chopped
fresh coriander, chopped
a couple of handfuls of almond slivers

1 small container of Greek yogurt

Pour olive oil in a a large ovenproof casserole or crock pot and quickly sear the lamb. Place meat aside and add in the garlic, onions, ginger and spices and season with salt and ground black pepper into the pot. Cook covered on low heat until onions get soft.
Add the tomato purée, the chopped tomatoes and honey into the saucepan and stir well. Then add in the meat and bring to a simmer. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F and place the pot in the oven for 1½ hours or more, until the lamb is tender. Remove the lid halfway through to let the liquid reduce and thicken.
Meanwhile, start preparing the couscous, following the instructions on the package (you can substitute the water with chicken stock like I did for extra flavor). Prepare the pomegranates seeds by cutting the fruit in half and scooping them out and removing the white membrane. Place the couscous in a bowl and mix in the olive oil and lemon juice (and salt and pepper if desired). Then stir in the pomegranate, the herbs and almond slivers. 
Serve the meat and couscous in bowls alongside a bowl of Greek yogurt and extra sauce to pour over the couscous (a must to make this real comfort food, which I didn't do in the photo for obvious reasons).


  1. Love this stew! Stew is such a comfort dish, no matter where it comes from.

  2. Brava, good girl, I loved reading this story- special story it is. I'm sure he is so glad you are in his life.

  3. That looks amazing! I'm not a huge fan of lamb, but I could probably adapt another meat, what do you think?

  4. What a lucky man to have this delicious meal prepared for him with so much love :-) Food brings out such strong feelings in people and sometimes only a certain dish will do for the ultimate comfort factor.

  5. Ciao Fiona, che bellissima ricetta. Io non mangio l'agnello, ma il mio fidanzato sì, anzi, è la sua carne preferita: magari domani approfittando della vacanza provo a preparargli questo stufato, che sembra delizioso!
    Buona settimana!
    Un abbraccio

  6. Also my partner's father lived in Lybia for a few years, for work. An equally interesting and challenging, at times dramatic, experience. His tales are never short of epic!

  7. Ooooh. That looks SO good. And how cool that your dad speaks Arabic too. You must have such a multicultural upbringing. :)

  8. What a great recipe! I can almost smell the stew through the screen! I love couscous too (and so does my 4 year old)! I will have to give this a try! I loved reading about your father-in-law's upbringing! :-)

  9. I am sure this stew would work with most meats but the lamb gives the sauce that unique flavor that you either love or dislike. You could even make a vegetarian version kicking up the spices a bit, perhaps adding cumin.

  10. Aren't you a sweet daughter making your dad his favourite comfort food! It does look fantastic I have to say! :D

  11. This stew looks amazing...and I love the story behind. Your father-in-law is a lucky man. Thank you for sharing with me...and thank you for visiting my own blog. Your comments mean so much to me.

  12. What an interesting story! I had no idea your father-in-law was even remotely associated with Libya or the Middle-East; I have a fascination for this country as it has so much history and (up until now) was virtually untouched by modern civilisation. I was told by some ladies who take care of giant turtles in Lebanon (in the south where it is empty due to war), that the only other place where these turtles like to come and nest is off the coast of Libya. How sweet of you to make him this splendid couscous. When the events started in Libya, I tried my hand at a very traditional and ancient dish, bazen, a stew with a big dumpling in the middle.

  13. Lorraine, Monet - It is so simple sometimes to make a person happpy, why not?
    ToB - yes, I am sure Libya is an extremely interesting place to visit. Leptis Magna alone must be fascinating. And now that you tell me of the turtles. Did you post about the bazen? I must go back and check.

  14. Hi Foodie, Your Moroccan lamb stew with lemon and pomegranate couscous recipe has been selected to be featured in a Recipe Guessing Game. Please share the following link with your friends and fans. To play, go here: Congrats again!! :)

  15. interesting post dear blogger


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