This is a very bold meal, in many senses of the word. First, the colours. There is an explosion of vibrant reds, in shades varying from the deep, bloody magenta of roasted beetroot to the bright, glossy crimson of redcurrants, to the scarlet hues of harissa and the earthy tones of griddled lamb. There are flecks of bright mint, a spoonful of creamy yoghurt and a background of fluffy couscous. Then there are the flavours: hot, sweet, spicy, fresh, deeply savoury. It's a riotous plate of bold and assertive ingredients, and works wonderfully together.
Inspired by my recent experimentation with whitecurrants in savoury cooking, I decided to give the same treatment to redcurrants, their slightly more common and accessible cousins. I have only used redcurrants in desserts before, my favourites being a redcurrant cheesecake or a peach and redcurrant cake. I love their delicate sweet-sour flavour, peppering cake batters with delicious sweet bursts. More than that, though, I love their beautiful appearance, like a string of jewels. As with pomegranate seeds, they add instant sparkle and glamour to all food.
For that reason, I thought they'd look beautiful strewn through a blank canvas of soft, fluffy couscous, as I would normally do with pomegranate seeds. When one thinks of redcurrants and savoury food, redcurrant jelly with lamb instantly springs to mind. Their tartness is a welcome pairing with the rather rich, sweet flavour of lamb meat. Lamb also works excellently with couscous, as Moroccan cooking exemplifies. I had two Barnsley chops in the freezer - this is taken from across the lamb loin, and is sometimes called a double chop. It has the bone in the middle and a good layer of fat on the outside, and is perfectly suited for a blast of heat from the griddle or barbecue.
Keeping with a Moroccan theme, I marinated the lamb in harissa paste. Harissa is a funny ingredient - depending on the brand you buy or the recipe you use, it can be overwhelmingly spicy and even bitter, sometimes. For the first time, I decided to make my own, using a recipe from Nigel Slater's second Kitchen Diaries book, but swapping caraway seeds for fennel seeds as I didn't have any. This harissa is slightly unusual in that it features preserved lemons, which give it a wonderful deep flavour. It's hard to describe the taste of a preserved lemon until you've tried one, but they're wonderfully aromatic and lend a delicious tang to everything you combine with them.
I'd really recommend making your own harissa. It takes minutes, and the flavour is utterly wonderful - far richer, spicier and more interesting than anything you can buy in a jar. You can control the amount of chilli, and add your own aromatics depending on what takes your fancy. It's bold, vibrant and flavoursome, and a beautiful brick-red colour, just begging to be slathered all over some juicy lamb chops.
To accompany the lamb, couscous strewn with cubes of roasted beetroot, tossed in za'atar - a Middle Eastern spice mix featuring thyme and sesame, among other things - and flecked with mint and parsley, before beautiful bold redcurrants are stirred through. I served this alongside the lamb with a big dollop of minted yoghurt, to take the edge off the harissa spice and to add a welcome hit of coolness and creaminess. It works excellently with the deep flavours of the meat and beetroot.
The lamb is just griddled on a hot pan, though you could also barbecue it. The smell of searing harissa coupled with that sweet, unmistakeable aroma of cooking lamb is fabulous. Harissa, to me, just belongs with lamb more than any other ingredient. Something about the combination of all those delicious spices manages to bring out, rather than overpower, the taste of the lamb. The redcurrants are a wonderful addition to the dish, adding a welcome note of sweetness to freshen up all those other rich, earthy flavours in there, though you could also use pomegranate if you can't get redcurrants. I love the way they look on the plate, sparkling out of the couscous.
This is a gorgeous medley of Moroccan and Middle Eastern flavours and textures. The star is the beautiful pink lamb with its smothering of bold harissa, but the redcurrants are an unusual and an inspired addition, I think.
Much more exciting than roast lamb with redcurrant jelly, I think. Hopefully you agree.
Harissa lamb with redcurrant and beetroot couscous (serves 2):
For the harissa paste:
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 bottled piquillo peppers (or roasted peppers)
- 1/2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 medium-hot red chilli
- 1 small preserved lemon
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp olive oil
For the rest:
- 2 lamb Barnsley chops
- 2 beetroot
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp za'atar (or use 1 tbsp dried thyme if you can't find it)
- 160g couscous
- A few sprigs fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 100g redcurrants, removed from their stalks
- 200ml natural or Greek yoghurt
- A small bunch of fresh mint, finely shredded
- A pinch of ground cumin
- Baby spinach or salad, to serve
First, make the harissa. Toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then grind to a powder in a pestle and mortar. Put in a food processor along with the garlic, peppers, tomato puree, vinegar and chilli, then pulse together. Discard the soft inside of the preserved lemon, and add just the skin to the food processor along with the paprika and olive oil. Blitz to a paste.
Rub the paste over the lamb, put in a shallow dish, cover with clingfilm and marinate for as long as possible - ideally overnight, but a couple of hours will work too.
When ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 200C. Cut the beetroot into 1cm dice. Place in a baking dish, then toss together with some olive oil and the za'atar/thyme, and some salt and pepper. Roast for around 30 minutes, until just tender. Put the couscous into a large bowl, and pour over enough boiling water to cover it by about half a centimetre. Put a plate over the bowl, and leave it for 5-10 minutes until it has absorbed all the water. Stir through the parsley, some olive oil and salt and pepper, and the roasted beetroot, then gently stir through the redcurrants. Mix the yoghurt in a small bowl with the mint and cumin.
Get a griddle pan very hot, then griddle the lamb for about 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on how well-done you like your meat and how thick the chops are. Leave to rest for five minutes, then serve alongside the couscous with a dollop of yoghurt, and some baby spinach or salad.