Roast Lamb Shoulder with Date Couscous

Roast Lamb Shoulder with Date CouscousOn The Lamb
Growing up, we always had lamb for Easter. There may have been the occasional ham but I always associate lamb (and my grandmother’s purple water goblets) with Easter.

I have a very clear picture in my mind of my grandmother carving the leg of lamb with an electric knife (!) and with each slice she may or may not have encountered a whole garlic clove that she had stuffed into the meat. I also remember the tiny metal containers for the mint jelly. The leg of lamb was always tasty, the mint jelly not so much. Back then, traditional roasted leg of lamb or the occasional broiled lamb chop with rosemary was pretty much the limit of my exposure to lamb. Nowadays though, when I think of eating or cooking lamb my tastes run to the Middle East.

No matter the occasion, if I am cooking with lamb chances are the flavors are going to be North African or Middle Eastern in nature. Easter dinner is no different. Harissa has thankfully replaced the mint jelly on the table and potatoes have made way for the couscous. So, depending on how formal we want to be, dinner can be lamb kebabs with pita and hummus or a roast shoulder with couscous and date stuffing. And there is always this family favorite, Moroccan Lamb Tangine.

I think this year because I feel the need to make an effort, I’m doing the Roast Lamb Shoulder with Date Couscous. It’s been a while since I have made Moroccan food and this is the perfect time to dust off a favorite recipe!

Roast Lamb Shoulder with Date Couscous
Adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden
Serves 4 to 5

1 shoulder of lamb (about 3 to 4 1/2pounds)
salt and black pepper
1 1/4 cups couscous
1 tablespoon orange blossom water, optional
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
5 ounces (not quite 1 cup) dates, pitted and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped coarsely
2/3 stick (5 1/2 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces
To garnish: 8 dates and 8 blanched almonds

Place the lamb, skin side up, in a baking dish or roasting pan. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, and roast in an oven preheated to 475°F for 15 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350°F and cook for 3 hours. The skin will be crisp and brown and the meat juicy and meltingly tender. Pour off the fat after about 2 hours.

For the stuffing, put the couscous in a different baking dish, and add the same volume
of warm water (about 1 1/4 cups). Add a little salt, the orange blossom water (if using), and cinnamon. Stir well so that the water is absorbed evenly. After about 10 minutes, add the oil, and rub the couscous between your hands to air it and break up any lumps.

Mix in the dates, raisins, and almonds ingredients, cover with foil, and place the couscous in the oven with the lamb for the last 20 minutes, or until it is steaming hot.

Before serving, stir the butter into the couscous so that it melts in and is absorbed evenly. Using a fork, fluff up the couscous stuffing, breaking up any lumps. Add salt to taste, if needed.

For the garnish, remove the pits from the dates and insert the blanched almonds inside. Serve the meat with the couscous stuffing decorated with the almond stuffed dates.

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