Quick Dinner: Spicy Lamb and Prunes with Couscous

Lamb with prunes, served with couscous
I’m going to have to make this again to get a picture …

School is back and we really need to get back into our menu planning. Not only does it get us organised, it also means we try out new stuff.

Last week we enjoyed a prawn curry recipe which came out of one of my old Olive magazines. I’d last made it in 2004 and written it out on a card to go in my recipe box. The Olive magazine was excellent (it may well still be – I’m just not in England buying it any more!) and that inspired me to delve into the cupboard where the mags are languishing and fish one out at random.

Which is funny because I pulled out a March issue: the recipes were the antithesis of seasonal and it seemed to have a strong baking focus. I’m not sure that either treacle or bakewell tarts would have cut it for dinner.

So even though I didn’t like the sound of ‘spicy lamb and prunes on pistachio couscous’ it was my best bet. It was from a section on weeknight food, where the recipes are for 2 and promise to be ready in 30 minutes. I often find that these kind of timings are at best optimistic and at worst erratic. However, in this instance, it was pretty close to the mark. I made work for myself because my prunes were stone in and I made up my own harissa-like marinade, but they’re definitely optional extras.

I’m so glad I tried this because, despite my reservations, it was excellent. The bonus was that my butcher sold me the lamb neck fillets for just $10.99/kilo (I was expecting to be in backstrap territory but happily no!) making it a very cheap meal.

You do have to be careful cooking lamb neck. You either cook it long and slow (often on the bone in things like curries) or super-fast. This is definitely the latter. On the plate it was occasionally a little tough to cut but in the mouth it was fine.

Whatever you do, do not omit the mint. It gives the dish a fresh lift. I cannot recommend growing your own mint highly enough – it does require quite a lot of water but you are rewarded with a vigorous and easy to grow herb that has plenty of uses.

Quick Dinner: Spicy Lamb and Prunes with Couscous

Serving Size: 2

Adapted from Olive magazine, March 2004. This serves two but the chances are you will have a little left over.


  • 350g lamb neck fillet (probably around 6 fillets), cut into thick slices
  • 1 tbsp harissa (or make your own marinade with oil, garlic, chilli, ground cumin & ground coriander)
  • 100g prunes, roughly chopped
  • 150mL vegetable stock
  • 100g couscous
  • 50g walnuts
  • handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • lemon wedges


  1. Begin by mixing the lamb and harissa together in a bowl. Set to one side to marinate.
  2. Put the prunes in a mug and just cover with boiling water. Set aside.
  3. Put the couscous in a bowl, pour over the hot stock. Cover and set aside.
  4. Roughly chop the walnuts.
  5. Heat a dry frying pan. When hot, add the lamb and cook for 2 minutes on each side so it's well browned. Lamb neck does have some fat on it so you probably won't need to add any to the pan. If you do, only add a little.
  6. Add the prunes and what remains of their soaking liquid. Allow the water to bubble and scrape the bottom of the pan. This is your sauce after all! Cook until your lamb is cooked how you like it.
  7. Mix the walnuts through the couscous and stir the mint through the lamb just prior to serving.
  8. Serve the lamb and prunes on top of the couscous, with lemon wedges on the side.

Moroccan Couscous Salad

My apologies for yet another really awful photograph! When this salad looked at its best I was too busy celebrating New Year to be photographing!

Disclaimer: San Remo sent me the wholemeal couscous.

Another couscous recipe. After the success of the 50-50 white/wholemeal couscous combination of my last effort, I decided that the salad I took along to a New Year’s Eve party could be 100% wholemeal couscous. I picked a recipe for a warm couscous salad from Jason Atherton’s book Gordon Ramsay’s Maze. This recipe was considerably less hassle to put together (despite having to rustle up the ras el hanout) and I certainly now have plenty of ideas for my own couscous salad creation (no doubt that recipe coming at some point … though this isn’t a blog about couscous so you might have to wait a little).

As usual, I had to make adjustments to Atherton’s recipe (it had raisins in it – I’m really not a fan of raisins in savoury food).

In a bowl, put 1 cup of couscous, a good pinch of salt, 2 tsp of ras el hanout, and a generous glug of good quality olive oil. Pour over 1 cup of boiling water, cover with cling film and leave to sit for 15 – 20 minutes.

With couscous – remember 1 cup of couscous, 1 cup of water or stock.

While the couscous is sitting, peel, core and then finely dice a Granny Smith apple. Finely chopping an apple is more difficult than it sounds (it’s not a shape that lends itself well to being chopped) so don’t get too hung up on size and evenness. Mix some lemon juice through the apple to stop it from discolouring (err on the side of more lemon juice, rather than less).

When the couscous has absorbed all the water, fork it through to fluff it up and then mix through the apple. Stir through some lemon juice (to taste – this depends a bit on how much you used on the apple), lemon rind, and some chopped coriander and rosemary.

I actually left out the coriander as we didn’t have any to hand, but I’d recommend using either that or parsley because, if nothing else, it will add some vibrant green to an otherwise somewhat yellow coloured salad!

This is a salad that you need to eat either the day you make it or the next as the rosemary flavour gets stronger and stronger and eventually dominates.

This couscous salad got a reasonable tick – I took it to a New Year’s Eve party and people who said they didn’t normally eat couscous politely said they enjoyed it. The quantities are much more reasonable here (it was served at a BBQ of 9 people and there was enough left overs for one meal for Andy and me). Andy and I decided that, while this too needs some tweaking, we’re on our way to the perfect couscous salad!

Couscous Salad Recipe


Disclaimer: I was sent the wholemeal couscous by San Remo.

As you may have gathered, I am quite keen on couscous but one thing I normally steer well clear of is wholemeal pasta. I had a very unhappy experience with it as a child (it was so horrible we ended up feeding it, uncooked, to my pet mouse, who loved it) so I was both sceptical and interested when San Remo released the new wholemeal couscous. Out for a drink, I mentioned it to a friend who got quite excited about the idea and immediately said she’d look out for it. So I’m assuming that more than reader will be interested to know a higher fibre, lower GI version of couscous exists and is produced by a South Australian company!

Anyway, new couscous meant time to try out a new recipe. Given that the Moroccans should know a thing or two about couscous, I turned to Made in Morocco and when I spotted the recipe for a couscous salad made with chickpeas and goat’s cheese I was sold.

This recipe isn’t flawless – so read on for what I did and what I will do next time!

Begin by roasting and skinning some red capsicums. Heat your oven to 200°C (conventional), cut your capsicums in half and place them skin side up on a tray (for ease of cleaning, I recommend a tray lined with baking paper). Drizzle over some olive oil and roast for ~ 30 minutes or until the skin starts to char and blister. Remove from the oven, place in a bowl and cover with cling film so that they sweat. Once they’ve cooled, you’ll be able to peel them quite easily! Slice and set aside.

In a large pan (I used a Corningware pan, so it could go straight from stove to table), heat some olive oil and lightly cook one largeish onion, finely chopped. Add two cloves of crushed garlic, 1 tsp of turmeric and ½ tsp of ground cinnamon. Quickly cook off the spices before adding 1½ cups of stock (chicken or vegetable).

Bring the stock to the boil and add 1½ cups of couscous (I used 50:50 white and wholemeal). Stir through the couscous and remove from the heat. Cover and leave for ~ 10 minutes, then fluff up the couscous and leave to cool a little.

When you’re ready to serve, stir through the remaining ingredients: 1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed, 150g of goat’s cheese, crumbled (I used Udder Delights’ chèvre which is widely available in supermarkets, but not particularly cheap), the juice of one lemon (I also added some grated rind) and plenty of fresh mint and parsley. While you can live without the parsley (we did) don’t skimp on the mint.

If you have it, top the salad with some finely sliced rind of preserved lemon.

This recipe is good in principle but there are a few problems. Firstly, the recipe says it serves four. Really? 1½ cups of couscous more like serves about 10. I brought this salad to our Christmas lunch of 8 adults and one child and only about a quarter of it was eaten! Secondly, I feel that the proportions are slightly out of whack. There are too many chickpeas, possibly not enough goat’s cheese and definitely not enough capsicum.

I’d definitely make a variation on this again. I’d do the onion, garlic, turmeric and cinnamon, I’d omit the chickpeas altogether and would increase the amount of roasted capsicum (or add other roasted vegetables, as I think some roast pumpkin would work really well here). Unless I was making this to take to a massive BBQ I’d also halve the quantities.

Recipe issues aside, the wholemeal couscous worked a treat. Andy didn’t even notice the difference and the next couscous salad I make (which will be on Monday, different recipe next time!) I’m going to use 100% wholemeal, not half and half.