I began this post several weeks ago and then, somehow, I lost my writing mojo. So back and forth I went, rewriting and deleting paragraph after paragraph until I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore and put the whole thing aside for a bit.
I suspect maybe, just maybe, my writers' block was a result of the idea most food bloggers (new ones, at least!) have that every post should be for a stellar recipe and include a witty, entertaining anecdote or details of some hilarious/fascinating/life-altering event which recently happened in the blogger's life. Then I got to thinking about the blogs I read without fail, every post, every recipe. There are only a few (though there are a bunch of others I visit semi-regularly). And do you know what I realised? All of them ebb and flow in terms of post length, frequency and recipe appeal, yet I keep going back because all the writers have an innate ability to make their readers feel connected by simply addressing mundane daily happenings. Sure there are big life events and fascinating stories - and some incredibly good recipes - but sometimes the posts I like best from those writers are the ones which discuss how difficult it is to be constantly inspired to put dinner on the table each day. Or the ones which admit a recipe 'fail'. There is a common misconception that if you love to cook, especially if you cook and create recipes for a living, you must be making restaurant-worthy meals every day at home. It's often the opposite. I might make a three course meal for clients at work, and by the time I've shopped, prepared, cooked, served, and cleaned up I just want a toasted sandwich for dinner! So it's lovely to know there are other foodie people who feel exactly the same.
And in that spirit, I think it's worth sharing many of the things I cook at home, not just the fancy or 'perfect' dishes. Sometimes I can think of ways I'd change something 'for next time', but rather than wait to post until I've tested and re-tested (or forgotten entirely about the recipe only to remember it a year later), how about I just share recipes as they stand, with a few comments about how they might be improved? You'll all get more cooking inspiration and it might open up more discussion between us about what on earth to make for dinner. *side note: if you have any questions or suggestions about a recipe, just leave a comment on the post - I will answer any queries and everyone reading will benefit!
First up is this incredibly easy assembly job, most of which can be done ahead of time for a 20 minute fridge-to-table dinner later on. It’s healthy, bright and can be doubled or tripled quite easily for a crowd (plus it’s smart enough that dinner guests will think you slaved over it all afternoon). Finally, the key to any recipe which gets a repeat in this house: it reheats just as well the next day (or, if you’re out and about, it makes a great room-temperature lunch with a handful of salad leaves thrown in). Until I had a steam oven I didn’t think I liked pearl couscous as it was always a little ‘gluggy’ when made on the stove, but I’m a convert. The texture of these toasted pasta-like spheres is somehow lighter and more appealing thanks to the more gentle and even heat of the steam oven. Give it a go if you've been put off in the past or never tried it before.
See you back here soon.
*also, have you followed the blog’s Facebook page or Instagram feed yet?? All the ‘proper’ recipes happen here but I often litter Insta and FB with teasers and other things I’m cooking. Oh, ok, more often with things I’m eating. Semantics.
Moroccan style couscous and lamb fillets
Serves 4 as a light meal. If you’re big eaters I’d add more lamb and double the couscous quantities. In fact, I double the couscous anyway for easy (meat-free) leftovers lunch.
A few notes:
The couscous is a riff on my friend Diane’s recipe, written for Neff (original here). Given my view that a warmed, puffy sultana should never feature anywhere on my plate, I’ve adapted Diane’s version somewhat to include dates. And because I just can’t leave a good thing as is, there are a few other changes as well – sweet potato for pumpkin, Persian feta for regular, coriander for parsley…you get the idea. Both versions are really tasty, and both benefit from the addition of chopped preserved lemon, though it’s a bit much for the smallest member of our household and tends to be reserved for the grown-ups meal.
Lamb fillets are expensive and I think there are definitely more flavoursome cuts around, but they can’t be beaten for super-fast cooking and minimal preparation. The steam oven renders them incredibly moist and although you could sear them in a hot frypan before they hit the oven, in this case I didn’t bother. The spice rub gave enough colour and the cooking time is so quick that I’m willing to sacrifice a little browning for the ease of getting dinner on the table fast. Not to mention no splattered frypan or cooktop to clean.
Finally, I know this looks like a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but once you’ve chopped and pre-cooked the onions and sweet potato, and toasted the nuts/seeds, it’s just a matter of throwing everything together and changing the oven settings as you go. I hope you’ll find it as easy as I do once you’ve tried it.
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced into 3cm cubes
1 tbs (20ml) olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
¼ cup pepitas
¼ cup flaked almonds
600g lamb fillets
2 tsp ras el hanout (a North African blend roughly translating to ‘top of the shop’. It’s a mixture of many different ground spices – usually upwards of a dozen – so there’s no singular substitute. I buy mine online from Herbie’s Spices but gourmet shops and better supermarkets should stock it)
Generous pinch of salt and pepper
1 cup pearl couscous (variously labelled as pearl, Israeli, or giant couscous but as far as I know they’re all the same thing)
1 ½ cups (375ml) light chicken stock (or water and a touch of salt if you don’t have stock)
1/2 cup dried dates, diced
A small handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
50g Persian feta (drained weight)
Natural yoghurt and a green salad for serving
Set your oven to 200⁰C on combination steam and line a tray with baking paper. Spread the sweet potato onto the tray and cook for about 20 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Remove and tip into a bowl. If you’re making the whole meal immediately, change oven setting to 100⁰C on steam setting (it will take a few minutes to cool down to this temp but I find it’s pretty close by the time I’m ready to put the couscous in).
Heat the oil in a frypan over medium heat and fry the onion until translucent. Remove from heat, scrape into the bowl of sweet potato and set aside. If you’re not going to make the rest of the dish until later, cover and refrigerate.
Add the pepitas and almonds to the frypan and cook until toasty and golden. Remove from heat and set aside.
Mix the ras el hanout, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub half of this mixture over the lamb fillets and set them aside.
Mix the other half of the spices with the stock. Put the couscous and stock into a tray (I use the same one I cooked the sweet potato in, minus the baking paper of course. It’s all about minimizing the dishes!). Steam for 15 minutes, then stir and add the dates, onions and sweet potato and steam for a further 5 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside and change setting to 230⁰C on combination steam.
Cook the lamb for about 5 minutes or until cooked to your liking. Mine took exactly 5 minutes to cook to medium-ish (what you see in the photos).
While the lamb is cooking, mix the nuts and seeds, coriander and feta through the couscous ready for serving. Rest the lamb for a few minutes before slicing and serve everything warm with natural yoghurt and a green salad on the side.
*But I don’t have a steam/combi-steam oven! You can roast the sweet potato at the same temperature in a conventional oven; steam or cook the couscous on the stove (for one-pot cooking, bring the stock to the boil before adding the couscous and turning right down to absorb – it’ll take around 15 minutes); and pan fry the lamb fillets in a bit of oil until cooked to your liking.