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Couscous with Lamb, Chicken, Merguez, Hearty Vegetables and Harissa

There are many versions of couscous across North Africa. Americans are probably most familiar with the Algerian/Tunisian style, because this is the type of couscous dish served at the ubiquitous couscous restaurants of Paris. It is spicy-hot, and often contains spicy merguez sausage. The most refined couscous dishes of all, however, are made in Morocco, where there are many regional variations. This recipe, in party-size proportions, is an amalgam - but, for all its mongrel nature, it's the deepest-tasting, most delicious couscous we know. The spiciness suggests Algeria, while the sweet raisins suggest the Moroccan city of Fez. We suggest you stop reading, and start cooking immediately


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh merguez sausage, pricked with a fork (you can substitute hot Italian sausage)
2 pounds lamb neck (with bones), cut into 2-inch pieces
10 chicken legs
2 large red onions, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
6 slender carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 3-inch lengths
3 small turnips (about I pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
3 fresh green chilies, seeded and finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds couscous
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup cooked chickpeas, warm
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes and drained
1/2 cup harissa sauce
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cups broth from the stew


1. Over moderate heat, place the olive oil in the bottom of a couscoussière, or a Dutch oven over which you can fit a steamer top. Heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add the merguez and cook, turning with tongs, until well browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove the sausage to a plate, cut into 1-inch lengths, and reserve. Add the lamb and the chicken legs to the pot in batches, and cook, turning, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the lamb and the chicken legs to the plate with the merguez.

2. Stir in the onions, parsley, cilantro, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and saffron, and cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the onions are softened and lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
. Return the lamb and the chicken (not the sausage) to the pot, add 5 cups of stock, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour, or until the lamb is tender. Stir in the carrots, turnips, and chilies, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook the pumpkin separately in boiling salted water until tender, drain, and reserve.

4. While the stew is cooking, place the couscous in a large bowl, wash quickly with cool water, and drain immediately (use about 6 cups water for every 2 cups of couscous). Allow the couscous to sit for 15 minutes; the grains should expand. Fork them through your fingers to separate each grain. Place half of the couscous over the stew in the steamer top of the couscoussière. Alternatively, you may place the couscous in a steamer top that you have fitted over the Dutch oven. Or, if you have a regular steamer, you may transfer the stew to the bottom of the steamer, and place the couscous in the top part. Cover the top part with the couscous, and bring the stew below to a boil. When the steam from the stew begins to pass through the couscous, add the remaining grains of couscous to the top. Seal tightly with foil where the couscous pan meets the stew pot. Steam for 1/2 hour (the grains should be soft but not mushy). When the couscous grains are done, transfer them to a bowl and mix in the remaining 1 cup of stock (heated), the butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add the reserved merguez and pumpkin to the stew pot with the chickpeas and raisins. Taste stew for seasoning.

6. In a bowl, mix together the harissa sauce and the tomato paste. Beat in 2 cups of hot stock from the stew pot.

7. Arrange the couscous piled high on a large platter. Top with the solid contents of the stew pot, arranged decoratively. Drizzle with a little of the harissa tomato paste broth mixture, and serve immediately. Pass the remaining harissa tomato paste broth mixture as a sauce.

Serves 8 as a main course

Kathleen Auzas