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.

Charmaine Solomon’s Lamb Korma


Lamb kormaAh, korma. That sad, sad little curry that seems to exist only on restaurant menus for those that can’t or won’t eat a ‘real’ curry.

I understand how korma gets that reputation – in restaurants it is often bland and vaguely sweet. Why would you choose it when there are so many more exciting offerings?

This recipe, from Charmaine Solomon’s India and Pakistan, will ensure those kind of preconceptions are firmly put aside.

This recipe even has chillis in it so if you want it fiery, go ahead and make it fiery. The use of both nuts and yoghurt will help temper that heat anyway – and I suspect is what has led to the curry’s maligned character. Of course, you can always play it safe while cooking the curry and turn things up by adding a good dollop of hot lime pickle when you serve.


Lamb Korma


  • 800g diced lamb (leg, preferably)
  • 2 onions
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 40g raw, unsalted cashew nuts
  • dried red chillis - to taste
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 green cardamom pod
  • 2 cloves
  • ½ tsp saffron strands
  • 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 20g ghee
  • oil
  • salt
  • 125g plain yoghurt
  • fresh coriander to serve


  1. Begin by making a curry paste.
  2. Roughly chop one of the onions and place in a food processor with the ginger, garlic, cashew nuts and chillis. Add 125mL water and process to a smooth paste. Add the spices (if you have ground cardamom and cloves, use ¼ tsp of each, but I used the whole spices and the flavour was fine) and process until everything well combined.
  3. Put the saffron in a small bowl with the boiling water and set aside.
  4. Heat the ghee and some oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Finely slice the remaining onion and cook until soft and golden. Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring, until the oil starts to separate out.
  5. Add a little water and salt and cook until the liquid has evaporated and then add the lamb. Stir thoroughly to ensure the lamb is well coated with the spice mix.
  6. Stir through the saffron (crush the strands against the sides of the bowl as you pour it in) and then add the yoghurt.
  7. Ensure the heat is low, cover and leave to simmer for at least an hour - until the lamb is tender. Make sure that the mixture doesn't boil and give it a stir every now and then.
  8. When you're ready to serve, stir through some coriander, leaving some aside for decoration. Serve with rice (and perhaps some hot lime pickle).

Cooking Through the Year: a Smoky Aubergine and Lamb Stew


I’m ludicrously tardy in posting this recipe … the book from which it comes is due back at the library today (even after an extension) and Spring has landed here in Adelaide.  But yesterday’s wild and woolly weather reminded us that we are not quite out of the woods and there might yet be a chance to indulge in a bit of slow cooking.

The recipe comes from Cooking Through the Year. It’s a big book: big in dimensions, a solid cover and hefty. It is densely packed with recipes that are divided by season, with Summer and Winter both being split in two. Each section has a ‘recipe chooser’ covering vegetables, fruit, seafood and meat, as well as an overview of produce at its best at that time of year. It is an English book so not everything listed is going to be readily available (guinea fowl is pretty hard to come by as a rule, and the fish selections are, necessarily, regional) but it will give you an excellent starting point for creating interesting, seasonal dishes.

This is the type of recipe book I love. Lots of recipes: four to six recipes on a double page and light on pictures. This doesn’t mean there are no pictures – it’s just that the beautiful images there are are generally well chosen and add something to the recipe. Where the book is, appropriately, image heavy is in the instructive sections. There are clear shots of different types of lettuce or cherries or squash and step by step photos for butterflying a leg of lamb. The book is published by DK which always seems to have incredibly high production standards, so the paper is smooth and thick and the layout is easy to read.

So I feel I’m doing this book a disservice by having tried only one of its 1000 recipes but a scary back log of blog posts means that we’ll have to make do.

I chose the smoky aubergine and lamb stew because it was simple, one-pot-ish and used Sherry vinegar and we have some left over dry Sherry hiding in a cupboard. The recipe contains lots of our favourite ingredients (cumin, chickpeas, chorizo) and it would be the perfect thing to make early in the week for a complete meal on one of the days I work.

And it did not disappoint. One mistake I did make was that, so keen was I to not overcook the aubergine and turn it to mush, I slightly undercooked it.  Andy, who is not a mushy aubergine fan, said he preferred it that way, but had I been serving it to others I definitely would have cooked it a little longer.

I don’t consider this dish ‘one-pot’ as you have brown the lamb and so dirty a plate but it is easy and you don’t need to worry too much about complicated sides.  The book suggests couscous but you could easily go with mash, pasta or even a salad.  Naturally, left overs were marvellous for both lunch and a small, hungry person’s dinner.


Smoky Aubergine and Lamb Stew


  • 500g lamb leg/shoulder, cut into chunks
  • 1 large aubergine, chopped into chunks
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 chorizo, chopped
  • splash dry sherry (or sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • pinch of cumin
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • sprigs of fresh thyme
  • vegetable stock (approx 600 mL, but enough to cover the meat)
  • olive oil


  1. Heat some olive oil in a casserole dish and add the aubergine and paprika. Cook, stirring, until the aubergine begins to colour. You'll probably need to add more olive oil as you go.
  2. Remove the aubergine from the casserole and set aside.
  3. Now brown the lamb, in batches if necessary. Set the lamb aside but keep it separate from the aubergine.
  4. To the casserole add the chorizo, onion and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. The chorizo will start to release its oil and the garlic and onion will soften. Add the sherry and increase the heat. Cook until the sherry has evaporated, scraping the bottom of the pan all the time.
  5. Reduce the heat and add the cumin then return the lamb to the pan, followed by the chickpeas and thyme and then cover with the stock.
  6. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook, covered, until the lamb is tender. Be careful not to boil. Check on the thickness of the gravy - you may want to cook uncovered towards the end to help thicken the gravy.
  7. About half an hour before serving, return the aubergine to the pan and cook until tender.
  8. Serve with your favourite starchy option.