I recently purchased a copy of Essential Pépin, Jacques Pépin’s new cookbook. It features more than 700 of his favourite recipes from his 60-year career, updated for today’s cooks. It also includes a three-hour DVD that shows Pépin demonstrating cooking techniques. I have been sampling a few recipes from it (and my friend Allan Stanley just received his copy, so I’m looking forward to hearing what he makes). The best recipe I have made so far is this Lamb Couscous, which is wonderful. It features a delicious harissa sauce, melt-in-your mouth lamb, and fig-studded couscous. It’s a delicious meal to share on a chilly fall night.

I used my own recipe for harissa; it follows the Pépin version. To avoid additives and preservatives in this recipe, make the harissa from scratch and make sure the chickpeas are all-natural (such as President’s Choice Blue Menu brand). Make sure the butter does not contain colour (such as Gay Lea unsalted butter) and that the figs are sulfite-free (I used Aurora brand for this recipe).

Make the spicy harissa from scratch

Simmer the lamb in water and spices

Meanwhile, cut up the vegetables

Add the vegetables to the lamb

Simmer the lamb and vegetables together until they are tender

Stir figs and couscous to coat with butter before adding water

Lamb Cousous



2 ounces dried Ancho chiles (6-8)

5 cups water

8 garlic cloves

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp tomato paste

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

(Ingredients for alternate version:

4 tbsp sweet paprika

2 chipotle in adobo, minced, plus 1 tsp adobo sauce

4 garlic cloves, minced

4 tsp ground cumin

4 tsp ground caraway

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing)


1½ lbs very lean boneless lamb, preferably from the shank or shoulder, cut into 1½ inch chunks.

3 cups water

5 garlic cloves

1 piece ginger (about the size of the combined garlic cloves), peeled

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp homemade or store-bought harissa, or to taste

1 large onion, 8 oz., sliced

8 oz. kohlrabi or large white turnips (about 2), peeled and cut into 1½ inch chunks

1 small butternut squash (about 12 oz.), halved, peeled, seeded and cut into 1½ inch chunks

1 small eggplant (about 8 oz.), trimmed and cut into 1½ inch chunks

2 carrots (about 3 oz.), peeled and cut into 1½ inch chunks

1 ripe tomato (about 8 oz.), halved, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice

1 medium zucchini (about 6 oz.), trimmed and cut into 1½ inch chunks

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (don’t discard liquid in can)


1¾ cups water

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 2/3 tbsp (1/3 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups instant couscous

4 oz. (about ¾ cup) dried figs, but into ½-inch pieces

Homemade or store-bought harissa for serving


For Harissa

Drop the chiles into a bowl with the water. Set a plate on top to hold the chiles underwater and let them soak for at least 3 hours or overnight. Remove the chiles from the water; reserve ½ cup of the soaking water. Pull out and discard the stems and seeds and cut the chiles into 1-inch pieces. Place some of the chile pieces in a mini-chop or blender with some of the garlic, some of the oil, and a little of the reserved chile-soaking water and process until pureed. Remove to a bowl. Process (in batches if necessary) the remainder of the peppers with the remainder of the garlic, oil, and soaking liquid and combine with the puree in the bowl. Add the tomato paste, salt and cayenne, mix well and put in a jar.

(If making alternate recipe, simply combine all ingredients)

For Stew

Put the lamb in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot and add the water.

Puree the garlic cloves and ginger in a mini-chop or food processor (you should have about ¼ cup) and add to the Dutch oven, along with the cumin, salt, tomato paste and 2 tbsp harissa. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil gently, covered, for 45 minutes.

Add the onion, kohlrabi or turnips, butternut squash, eggplant and carrots, return to aboil, and boil gently for 15 minutes. Add the tomato, zucchini and chickpeas, with their liquid, return to a boil and boil gently for 15 minutes longer. The stew can be made ahead to this point and reheated before serving.

For the Couscous

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and add the salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a larger saucepan. Add the couscous and stir until the grains are coated with butter. Stir in the figs, the mix in the seasoned boiling water. Stir well, cover, and set aside for about 10 minutes.

At serving time, reheat the stew if necessary. Pour 1 cup of broth from the hot stew into a serving bowl and add about 3 tbsp harissa (depending on how much heat you want). Stir well and place the harissa on the table so guests can add it to the stew if they wish.

Fluff the couscous and mount it on individual plates. Make a well in the centre of each mound and fill with a few pieces of meat and vegetables and some of the juices. Serves 4.

From Essential Pépin