Picture this: Nine o’clock in the evening. The sun has just set, its glow tracing a silvery edge over the ridge of the West Hills. Even in the dark, the leaves of the street trees stand out, clearly bright green. People are laughing and talking, their voices distant, maybe half way round the block. The air is so soft and warm, a bit muggy, scented with the herbal pungency of flowering trees. I step out to dinner in a cotton dress and sandals, no sweater, even though it’s late. It’s that kind of night.
Walking around in Northwest Portland at any time of the year in search of something to eat is a pleasure but it’s my idea of perfect when it’s so warm after dark. Given the circumstances, I might be able to chalk up my obsession with the lamb skewers and Israeli couscous we ate at Clyde Common two years ago in early August to that perfect Northwest summer evening. Or it could have been the cocktail: gin, St. Germain, champagne, bitters and a little beaten egg white – I swear I can still taste it. Or the french fries, shatteringly crisp, with harissa and creme fraiche. (See, I still remember every single detail and it’s been two years!)
But the lamb! It was charred on the outside, tender and pink on the inside. I kind of hate the word morsel, but it evokes the tenderness and savory more-ishness of these skewers. Then of course there’s the couscous underneath, bright with preserved lemon and parsley, studded with toasted hazelnuts, and just to the side deep red harissa streaking around, fiery and compelling. Maybe it’s because of my current obsession with Plenty, and the myriad couscous variations I’ve been cooking, I feel that now I’m ready to riff on that excellent Clyde Common meal, no problem.
So I can’t conjure up any summer weather; it’s still freezing here in Seattle. It’s ok. I can make this.
Lamb Skewers with Herbed Israeli Couscous, Grilled Lemons and Harissa
I tried both a yogurt marinade for the lamb and an olive oil version. I liked how the lamb became very tender after bathing in yogurt for 24 hours. However, I wanted a deeply browned edge, and you don’t get that with a yogurt marinade, so I switched it up and went with olive oil. Much better.
- 1 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf or two
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 sliced shallots
- kosher sea salt and black pepper
- 1 1/2 lbs butterflied leg of lamb – silver skin trimmed away and cut into 1″ pieces
- 2 lemons, cut in half
- Combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, bay, rosemary, shallots, 1 tsp salt and several grindings of black pepper. Stir vigorously with a fork.
- Pour marinade into a gallon ziplock bag and toss in the lamb. Seal the bag, pushing out all the air, and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for at least 4 and up to 24 hours.
- Drain the meat, reserving the marinade and pat the lamb dry with a paper towel. Thread the meat onto short skewers. Don’t crowd. Brush the cut ends of the lemons with the marinade. Grill the lamb over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes turning 2 or 3 times, basting now and then. During the last 3 minutes, grill the lemons, cut sides down. Arrange all over the couscous and serve immediately.
Herbed Israeli Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Toasted Hazelnuts
- 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
- 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 preserved lemon, flesh scooped out and discarded, rind slivered
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed away in a dishtowel
- In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, sauté the couscous in the olive oil. After 2 0r 3 minutes, when it has browned a little, add the stock and the butter. Turn the heat to high and when the stock begins to simmer, clamp on a lid and turn the heat down to low.
- After ten minutes, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and stir in the parsley, scallions, preserved lemon and hazelnuts.
- Mound in the center of a large platter and arrange the lamb skewers over the top. Serve with a bowl of harissa and the grilled lemons.