LET’S COOK IT: Spicy leg of lamb with a grilled vegetable stew and nutty couscous for Carinho

There is something so inherently ritualistic about eating together: when the company is great, the whole thing almost becomes like a free jazz concert where everybody brings something different to the table (a great dip as a starter, some fruit, an amazing wine to accompany the dish) and where everything just sort of blends together in one beautiful composition which will never be exactly the same. Our friends Phillip and Ina from Carinho do Vinho understand this perfectly and many times now have we had the privilege of sitting down at that beautiful long log of a wooden table to share food and wine. This recipe of roasted lamb was something that Phillip has blackmailed / forced / gently encouraged / psychologically manipulated me into making various times and now, as it’s his birthday this week, here’s a small present in the form of a mouthwatering recipe. Here’s to all of the lamb and the wines that I see in our future!

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Cooking time: About two hours

Feeds: 4 people

Ingredients in the order of appearance:

For the leg of lamb
olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
roasting veggies: 1 whole bulb of garlic, onions, carrots, a tomato or two, maybe a couple of sticks of celery; herbs like a couple of bay leaves, some thyme and / or rosemary
coriander seeds; fennel seeds; cumin seeds (1 tbsp of each)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 lemon, in thick slices
2 tbsp of honey
salt & pepper

For the vegetable stew
olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 onion, roughly chopped
coriander seeds; fennel seeds; cumin seeds (1 tbsp of each)
1 kg of your finest, ripest summer tomatoes (or two cans of tomatoes let down with one can of water if it’s winter time)
1 chili, chopped
root vegetables: 1 or 2 carrots, 1 or 2 beets
stewing vegetables: 1 courgette, 1 aubergine, 1 red paprika
2 bay leaves; some fresh rosemary or thyme
1 lemon, stabbed 3 or 4 times so it can release its juices while stewing
honey
salt & pepper
fresh coriander

For the couscous
250g couscous
50g of mixed nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, lineseeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
50g of raisins, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes
olive oil
salt

For the yoghurt-mint-dip
250g yoghurt
fresh mint
good quality extra virgin olive oil
salt
lemon juice (1 or 2 tbsp)

Instruments
Pestle and mortar
A grill pan

  1. First of, toast all of your cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry pan until they smell fragrant and nutty. Add them to your pestle and mortar and beat the living daylights out of them until they become a fine powder. Half of this mixture is for your vegetable stew, the other half is for your lamb.
  2. For the leg of lamb: ask your butcher to make your leg of lamb roast ready and cut off some of the fatty bits (but not all, otherwise no flavor or juiciness!). Then rub it all over with some olive oil, salt and the spices. With a sharp knife, prick holes in the flesh in which you can push a slice or two of your garlic together with a sprig of rosemary (or a bay leaf also works). Then it’s easy sailing: in a roasting tray, add your roughly chopped veggies (make sure to slice your bulb of garlic in two), together with your tomato paste, lemon and two tablespoons of honey and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper and some olive oil. Mix everything together well and sit your lamb on top of this delicious bed. Shove the tray into a preheated oven of about 200ºC. Cook the lamb for about an hour and 15 minutes if you want it pink, or an hour and a half if you want it more well done. Take it out of the oven and cover with tinfoil and leave for 15 minutes before carving.
  3. In the meantime, make your veggie stew which is really easy. Fry off garlic and onion in olive oil until fragrant and soft and then add all of your ingredients minus the courgette, red pepper and coriander. The courgette and red pepper you can add 10 minutes later. Actually, if you’re using courgette, aubergine and red bell pepper, a great idea would be to take out a grill pan, slice your courgette, aubergine and pepper in two length ways, sprinkle with salt and olive oil and grill them for a nice charcoaly, bbq flavor. When they’re grilled, cut them up into nice chunks and add them to the stew when your root veggies are almost soft. Don’t you even dare think about covering the stew with a lid, you want the flavors to intensify. When everything is nice and cooked through, squeeze out your lemon with a spoon so it releases all of its jammy goodness into the stew and season to taste until you have a sweet-sour salty spicy veggie stew. Sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander before serving.
  4. For the couscous: first toast your nuts and seeds in a dry pan until they’re nice and brown. 5 minutes before you’re ready to serve the whole shebang, take a bowl, enjoy the delightful, satisfying sound of pearly couscous falling to the bottom of the bowl, add a sprinkling of salt and add hot, not boiling, water, double the amount of your couscous (500 ml). This would also be a great time to get creative: add lemon peel, a green tea bag, some mint or koriander leaves, use some mild veggie broth, … Cover with a plate and wait for three minutes. When the couscous is nice and light, fluff up the grains with a fork, stir in your best olive oil to taste (I also like to use some milky butter which makes it more naughty and rich), add your nuts and drained raisins and check for seasoning. Only serve when you’re tastebuds are giving you a high five.
  5. Finally: the mint yoghurt is just mint, smashed in a pestle and mortar to bring out the flavor (don’t make it into a complete puree, just smash the leaves until they’re bruised and give off their wonderful aromas), add your yoghurt and other ingredients and mix until you have a sour, minty but well balanced little dip. It should be sour but not astringent. You should pick up on some of the olive oil and there should be enough salt in there. It’s difficult to give exact measurements because so much depends on your own tastebuds, the yoghurt you use, the quality of the mint, etc.
  6. Call your friends to the table, serve with a deep, velvety red wine full of cherries and berries, carve the lamb and serve it in some beautiful earthenware bowls. If you find a pomegranate, this would be the perfect moment to slice one in two and beat it with the back of a spoon so all of the seeds get sprinkled over the lamb, couscous and veggie stew. Listen as the table becomes like a church of quiet celebration and delight.
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