Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lunch Week 41: Moroccan Lamb and Roasted Vegetables with Couscous

So every Sunday, I head over to the kitchen to whip up a big batch of food for lunch next week. Yes, I brown bag. And I almost always do it, unless I become too busy to even buy cold cuts from the deli. I do it for several reasons being health, finance, and laziness. Now, you may think that spending hours on a day off to prep and cook five meals at once is hardly lazy. But let me remind you, I hate it when the time comes to decide what to eat for lunch every day. I work in Midtown so the choices are endless. My problem, the more choices, the harder it is for me. So it's much easier for me to have my lunch ready and already decided.

So my lunch for the week: Moroccan Lamb and Roasted Vegetables with Couscous

Getting a little exotic this time with Moroccan flavors. But in reality, I had pretty much all the spices in my pantry. I guess it's exotic when I use them all together. Also, this is a perfect fall/winter dish because it's hearty and uses plenty of fall vegetables.

So I start off with some butternut squash which is one of my most favorite fall vegetables. This squash is so versatile. It can be pan seared, boiled, roasted, souped, pot pied, mashed, etc. And it also helps that it tastes awesome! Slightly sweet, soft, and creamy.

I start prepping the squash by cutting the ends off and then splitting it in half where the round part meets the straight part. It helps with the peeling.
Take a nice sharp vegetable peeler (I like using the Y shaped ones) and peel all of the skin off. Make sure to get in deep enough to get all of it off. Once peeled, split in half again to find the seeds. Scoop out cleanly with a spoon.
Then chop up the squash into small bite sized pieces. Add salt, pepper, and oil to mix. Layer evenly on a sided sheet pan.
Into the oven at 375oF for about 30-45 minutes depending on how big your pieces are. The butternut squash pieces should have a nice golden caramelized outer layer now. And they should have released some liquid which helps lock in that concentrated flavor. Here's a tip: before scooping up the pieces, let them cool a bit. Once at room temp, the squash pieces will retain their shape and crust. Otherwise, they can be smushed and no one wants that. Well, unless you plan on making mashed butternut squash or soup.
Next up, some sliced carrots and onions. Again, salt, pepper, and oil. These can be roasted at the same time as the butternut squash. However, these take much less time (about 15 minutes or so).
Here, the onions are nice and softened. The carrots are cooked through and naturally sweetened.
And now the eggplant. Here, I have 3 small-medium eggplants. I like to leave the skins on because they have a lot of flavor, as well as vitamins and minerals.
I sliced the tops off and cut them into small triangles. Again, salt, pepper, oil. Into the same oven for about 30 minutes or so until softened and the water was evaporated.
Nicely browned and flavorful.  Again, let cool to room temperature until you scoop it up. This is a relatively soft vegetable so this step is pretty important.
And the star of the meal: the lamb. Here's a boneless leg of lamb that needs some trimming. Lots of fat and gristle to be removed.
Once trimmed and cleaned, I patted it down with paper towels. Meat browns much nicer when it's dry. So any extra moisture should be removed via paper towels. After that, I cut up the lamb into smaller pieces. Salt, pepper, oil
Then I added the following spices: paprika, cinnamon, ground coriander, nutmeg, cumin, curry powder, and ground ginger. Also, some chili powder would work really well here. About 1-2 tsp of each spice into the mix.
Then I mixed the lamb up with my hands. I like to go in and massage the spices into the meat. However, you can use whatever method you want. Then let the meat marinated. Usually, I like to leave it overnight in the refrigerator. However, if you're pressed for time, then an hour would work. In fact, if you prep the lamb first then prep, cook, and cool the vegetables, the lamb should be ready and well marinated.
Onto a cookie sheet in one layer and into the oven at 400oF for about 15-20 minutes. The time depends on whether you like your meat more well done or not. Since I like my red meat a little underdone, then I took it out at about 15 minutes.
And this is what it looks like. The juices, oils, and spices flowed everywhere. It was really difficult to not eat this as is. In fact, I promptly took a quality control taste or two. Hah! But definitely let it cool for 10-15 minutes.
While the meat cools, prep the rest of your ingredients. Here I have some dried cherries which I love! They're sweet but a little tart. Great in yogurts. But this time, I'm using it in the dish to add a little sweetness.
But first, you have to reconstitute them with some boiling water. Add enough water to cover the cherries completely. Wait about 5 minutes and they should be plump. Drain and set aside.
And now the Israeli couscous. I really like this grain because it's a really versatile ingredient. It cooks pretty quickly and can be used instead of rice or pasta sometimes. It works really well in soups too because it retains it's shape and texture pretty well. It's soft but slightly chewy. And it absorbs any flavor that you use.
It cooks up really quickly. So just take 1.25 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry couscous. Bring the water to a boil. Add plenty of salt, but not as much as you would for pasta because you will not be draining the water. After salting, add the couscous and stir immediately. Bring back to a boil and continue stirring occasionally for about 6-8 minutes. But this time, the liquid should be completely absorbed. Taste for seasoning and texture. It would have flavor and be chewy. If so, then turn off the heat. If not, add more salt or cook a little longer making sure that it doesn't start to stick to the pot.
Once the couscous is fully cooked, then add the rest of the ingredients in layers. First the lamb meat and half of the juices from the pan. Stir well. The lamb and jus should really flavor the couscous well, as well as making it creamy. Then add the vegetables: butternut squash, onions, carrots, and eggplant. Mix well again. And now the rest: cherries, slivered almonds, chopped parsley, and chopped olives. I used green Greek olives.
And there you have it: Moroccan Lamb and Roasted Vegetables with Couscous. So how did it taste? Pretty awesome! The lamb was juicy, tender, and really flavorful. It was also slightly chewy. But I don't like my meat super soft anyway. The spices were really nice and could only be better with some chili powder. Also, if I had time to marinate the meat overnight, it would have been amazing. Also, the lamb pieces were a little big. They should have been cut smaller into similar sizes as the roasted vegetables. The couscous was flavorful and absorbed the lamb juices really well. It retained its chewy texture and I love it! The roasted vegetables held up well too. Letting them cool really helped them retain their texture and shape. The butternut squash is slightly sweet, where as the carrots are even sweeter as well as the onions. However, the eggplant is slightly bitter and balances everything out really nicely. Lastly, the cherries added some sweetness to counter the spices, the parsley added some freshness, the olives added the briny, saltiness, and the almonds gave everything a slight crunch. Happy and satisfied this week. Yum!


  1. I love everything about ths!

    its gorgeous!

    and im impressed ; )

  2. 0_0 nice weekly lunch

    **push the street meats aside

    although, probably too many veggies for me. lol.


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