If I can cook it, you can cook it And I'll travel the world to bring it back home to you.
Merguez Lamb Patties and Gold Raisin Couscous
Kibbi at Open Sesame in Long Beach, CA
I was quite surprised to read that lamb consumption is this country hit a new low last year. It’s a decline that’s been a long time coming. The number of sheep raised in America is half what it was 20 years ago and one tenth of what the country raised in the late 1940s. And it’s not just lamb meat that’s trending down. Wool has been replaced by synthetics that are less expensive. Fewer sheep, less lamb. In fact, Americans now eat less than a pound of lamb a year. As recently as the 1960s that figure was 4-1/2 lbs. But for someone who grew up looking forward to lunch at his grandmother’s because it almost inevitably meant a lamb chop, it’s hard to understand why. Especially when you can make something as wonderful as these Merguez Lamb Patties.
The first time Andrew and I went out West to see Mason, my grandson, Kym and Alex took us to Open Sesame, a Lebanese Mediterranean Grill in Long Beach (5215 E. 2nd Street, Long Beach CA. Tel: (562) 621-1698). It was our first foray into Lebanese food and it was a huge hit with us. We started out with an appetizer of Kibbi, a shell of lean ground beef and bulgar filled with pignoli nuts, onions and herbs. For the main course, I opted for Kafta, a wonderful spicy skewer of ground sirloin and lamb mixed together and then grilled. Between the Kibbi and the Kafta, there was a little redundancy. However they were both so delicious, that on my next trip west, I practically begged Kym and Alex to take me there. I was so into the food that I asked Omar, our waiter, if I could possibly get the recipe for both Kibbi and Kafta. He was very apologetic that somebody had taken their house cookbook home!
Kafta with Hummus and Basmati Rice at Open Sesame
I’ve been craving those flavors ever since. And one night recently I was also craving lamb. Doing a quick search, I found a recipe from the late lamented Gourmet that captured the distinct taste of North Africa’s wonderful spicy Merguez sausages. In this case, you create your own Merguez flavor by incorporating a whole medley of spices into the ground lamb. Pairing this with the sweetness of a raisin-filled couscous contrasts perfectly with the deep spice of the meat. At Open Sesame, the Kafta was served with a garlic-y hummus and a cucumber yogurt salad. You could easily add these to the plate and have a feast of Lebanese and North African flavors. I opted to steam some fresh asparagus that gave the plate a little color, crunch and springtime appeal. This dinner will take you all of about 15 minutes to prepare and a total of 30 minutes from start to finish. Here are the recipes:
Recipe for Merguez Sausage Patties and Golden Raisin Couscous
1 1/4 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 1/4 pounds ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa (spicy North African condiment)*
*Harissa is essential to this dish. It is not that uncommon. I found it at Fairway. You can order it on-line at www.amazon.com/grocery
Lamb with spice mixture added
1.Toast fennel seeds in a small heavy skillet over medium heat until fragrant and a shade darker, about 1 minute. Grind to a fine powder in grinder.
2.Mix together lamb, garlic, harissa, spices (including fennel), and 1/2 teaspoon salt thoroughly with your hands (do not overmix). Form into 4 oval patties (about 3/4 inch thick).
3.Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook patties, turning once, about 9 minutes total for medium-rare.
While patties cook, bring broth, raisins, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then stir in couscous. Let stand off heat, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; stir in cilantro, zest, and salt to taste.