Feeling spicy? When I crave a good dose of spice and fragrance, I head to Asia, the Middle East or North Africa -- in my dreams. In reality, I head to my kitchen, where I fling open the spice cabinet and get cooking. I made these merguez patties recently when I was craving the heat and aromatic flavors of North Africa: harissa, garlic, coriander and mint. These feisty patties hit the spot -- well, an airline ticket would have really hit the spot, but, hey, this was a pretty good stand-in for a school night.
What really tipped these patties for me was the use of whole spices that I toasted and ground in my mortar. If you haven't tried doing this, then you are missing a big component in the flavor department. It's not as complicated as it sounds, and the results are well worth it. Whole spices are readily found in the spice section of your supermarket, gourmet and spice shops -- even online. When you are ready to use the spices, toast the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then transfer to a spice grinder or a mortar, and blitz or pound the spices until fine. The flavor is light years better than pre-ground spice.
Lamb Merguez Patties and Couscous Salad
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Yield: makes 18 to 20 (2-inch) patties
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small poblano or green pepper, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lamb Merguez Patties:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 pounds ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil (if pan-frying)
Prepare the couscous: Place the couscous, water, lemon juice and olive oil in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork; add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
Prepare the patties: Toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Grind to a fine powder in a mortar with pestle or a spice grinder.
Transfer the remaining patty ingredients except olive oil to a large bowl. Add the toasted spices and mix until combined without overworking the meat. Form into 2-inch patties. (Depending on your preferences, you can make 18 to 20 patties.) Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Remove the patties from the refrigerator and let stand 10 minutes. Grill over direct high heat or pan-fry in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once.
Serve with couscous salad, pita bread, Greek yogurt and a squirt of harissa if you're feeling extra spicy.
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