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
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).