12 December 2011

Ras-al-hanout Minced Lamb with Ottolenghi's Green Couscous

This recipe was originally one from that old favourite, BBC Good Food.  However, I can't justify paying for stewing lamb, or for a lamb shoulder for everyday meals so it required some adjustment and tinkering about, in order to make it suitable for using lamb mince.

I was conscious that the texture would appear very different from how it should do, as mince has a very different "look" to cubed lamb.  Hence, to provide the "cubes" that would be lacking otherwise, I added some small cubes of sweet potato.  The sweet potato added to the sweetness of the dish and also worked perfectly where giving the whole mixture some additional texture.  It didn't look like a panful of slop - which I was a tad nervous about!  One thing to note, though, is the degree of fattiness that appears if you don't drain the fat from the mince to begin with (which is difficult, considering the order of cooking).  I was left with pools of oil on the surface of the mince - which were very quickly and successfully dealt with by laying a piece of kitchen paper on top.  The oil was absorbed into the kitchen paper and the gravy was left behind.  Perfect!

The recipe said to serve with cooked couscous, mint or coriander leaves and lemon wedges - all of which immediately brought Ottolenghi's Green Couscous to mind.  We absolutely love this couscous - which is saying something, as couscous has often been something of a *heavy sigh* where carbohydrates are concerned.

Bearing in mind the anti-inflammatory thing, the lamb dish was spot on (especially with the addition of sweet potato), but the addition of a carb. wasn't in keeping with the spirit of the thing at all.  However, if you consider that in total you're using just 150g of couscous, divide that by three diners and at 50g, you're not doing as much damage as you first thought.  Add to that the ingredients of olive oil, onion, cumin, spring onion, chilli, parsley, coriander, tarragon, dill and mint - and you're immediately into plus points.

The two dishes - the lamb mince and the couscous - went together perfectly.  I was so pleased, although following a spoonful of the couscous I could easily have forgotten about the lamb and just eaten couscous until I couldn't have stuffed another morsel in - but that's probably just me.

I am always vaguely disappointed by Ras-al-hanout.  I think it is a combination of two factors.  Firstly, Ras-al-hanout spice mix has, as one of its ingredients, rose petals.  I have an issue with the smell of rose petals when they aren't attached to a rose bush.  Make no mistake, I have no issue whatsoever with the flavour - love Turkish Delight!  However, I blame the entire thing on a work colleague from when I was a Legal Secretary back in Epsom.  I shared an office with a wonderfully intelligent and mischievously quirky girl called Liz, who had adopted an intensely rose fragranced perfume.  Sitting in a centrally heated office with her, was like being in the middle of Hampton Court Palace's Rose Garden on an 80 degree summer's day.  Now where the Rose Garden is concerned, it's wonderful because you walk into it - breathe deeply - and walk back out again.  Having to live with it for 8 hours a day, was hard, hard work.  When it reached the stage that I was leaving work with a migraine each day, I had to stop her from practising her breast-stroke on her typing chair (yes, she used to!) and ask if she would mind toning down the perfume.  I'm pleased to say that because she was so lovely, she did.

However, since then I've had issues with any kind of rose perfume - which obviously includes Ras-al-hanout.

The second element to this disappointment, is I think because the spice mix doesn't contain any chilli heat at all.  Now the whole reason I was attracted to it in the first place, was because it was novel to find a spice mix that didn't contain chilli.  Having used it a few times, though, I made the enlightening discovery that the spice just isn't exciting without a little heat.  I still have some left in the packet, so the next time I use it, I'll include some chilli and see how the disappointment factor goes!  Yes, I know it won't - strictly speaking - be Ras-al-hanout then, but isn't that how recipes develop?


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
500g minced lamb
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
3 tsp Ras-al-hanout spice mix
1 tbsp tomato puree
3 or 4 dried apricots, chopped
a sweet potato, peeled and diced
300ml vegetable stock.

Method :

1.  In a deep frying pan, heat the oil and add the onion.  Fry until softened and beginning to caramelise, then add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook for another minute or so.

2.  At this stage, you could remove the contents of the pan (set aside somewhere to keep warm) and brown the mince.  This enables you to drain the fat once browned.  Otherwise, you'll need to skim the surface at the end, to remove the excess fat.  Either way, brown the mince until beginning to caramelise.

3.  If appropriate, return the onion mixture to the pan and add the spice mix, tomato puree, apricots, stock and sweet potato and bring to a simmer.

4.  Cover and simmer for around 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is virtually cooked.

5.  Remove the lid and continue to simmer until the sweet potato is tender and the sauce has reduced from a gravy-like consistency, to a dense sauce-like consistency.

6.  Serve.



  1. now that sounds really lovely, I do love moroccan spice mixes. I havent mad this in a while but you have inspired me!

  2. That's terrific to hear - as that's what Rhubarb & Ginger is all about. :)


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