Lamb Couscous

James Beard

Author and Educator

People frequently asked James Beard to suggest an unusual, but not too expensive, dish to serve at a dinner party. He often recommended couscous, a fairly coarse ground wheat that’s the national dish of Morocco. It can be cooked in a special “couscousier,” the traditional pot that looks like an enormous double boiler with a deep bottom and a perforated top, or just in a cooking pot fitted with a colander or steamer. Make sure to buy the long-cooking couscous, rather than the instant version, which tends to become mushy.


  • 1 pound lamb shoulder or neck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz.) butter
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 2 pounds long-cooking couscous
  • 6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
  • 4 turnips, peeled and quartered
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 3 zucchini, thickly sliced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup raisins


Start the couscous at least 2 hours before your party. Put in the bottom of a couscousier (or an 8-quart stock pot fitted with a steamer or colander) the lamb, onions, ground ginger, turmeric, pepper, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, butter, saffron, and enough water to come 2 inches above ingredients. Bring this to a rapid boil.

Line the colander or steamer top of the couscousier with cheesecloth to prevent the grains from falling through, add couscous, and put over the boiling stew. Cover with the couscousier lid or wrap aluminum foil tightly over the colander, and put more foil around the point where the colander and pot meet to keep the steam from escaping. Steam 1 hour, then remove the steamer top and run cold water over the puffed-up couscous for 2 to 3 minutes, breaking up the lumps with your fingers. Set aside to drain.

To the stew in the pot, add carrots, turnips, and potatoes. Cover and cook 20 minutes over medium heat. Meanwhile, turn the drained couscous into a big bowl and mix in thoroughly the remaining 1/4 cup vegetable oil and the salt. Return it to the steamer. Add the zucchini, chickpeas, and raisins to the stew, replace the steamer over it, cover, and steam for 20 more minutes.


12 to 16 servings