Get to cooking: Leslie Brenner shares some of her delicious recipes


The restaurant critic’s complete recipes from the FD Luxe November issue. Read the entire article, here. 

Photo by Manny Rodriguez


This is adapted from Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco. Wolfert writes in her headnote that the dessert is her adaptation of a recipe given to her by chef Fatima Mountassamin of Le Tobsil restaurant in Marrakech. I followed Wolfert’s version faithfully, but doubled the prunes. She calls for Bartlett or Bosc pears, but the ones I found were rock-hard, so instead I used just-ripe, yet still very firm, French Butter Pears, which were perfect.

8 cups water

11/4 cups sugar

1/2 navel orange, skin on, sliced 1/2-inch thick

One 3-inch cinnamon stick

1 clove

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

6 firm yet ripe pears

24 pitted prunes


1. Combine water, sugar, orange slices, cinnamon stick, clove, bay leaf and lemon juice in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.

2. Remove the core from the bottom end of a pear, using an apple corer or sharp paring knife, then peel it, but leave the stem on. Gently lower it into the liquid in the saucepan, then repeat for the rest of the pears. Return the pan to the burner over medium heat. Add the prunes and simmer until the pears are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears, prunes and orange slices to a bowl. Boil the poaching liquid over medium high heat until syrupy and reduced to 11/2 cups, about 20 minutes or maybe more. Strain the syrup over the pears. Serve when they’re room temperature, or you can let them cool, cover them and refrigerate up to 4 days. When you want to serve them, bring them to room temperature.


This dish is a chicken, lamb and vegetable stew that’s served over a bed of North African semolina couscous. To achieve the fluffiest couscous, you’ll want to steam it two or three times. Otherwise you can simply follow the directions for instant couscous on the box. Either way, use instant couscous, which can be purchased at any supermarket. For the meat, you can use lamb shanks or cuts from the shoulder, or a combination. Ask the butcher to cut them into big pieces (I usually have shanks cut into three pieces each). If you use lamb shoulder chops, it’s easy to cut them into big pieces yourself. Merguez is available at select Whole Foods Markets and Central Markets. You can use purchased roasted red peppers if you don’t feel like making them.

Whether you do one or two initial steamings, you can do that hours in advance, leaving a final steaming for just before you serve the couscous. To steam the couscous, you need a colander that fits snugly over a pot of boiling water (no lid is necessary), along with a shallow pan for moistening, cooking and raking the grains. I use a large paella pan, but a sheet pan with sides works, too. Of course, if you happen to own a couscousier, that works great. If you’re skipping the steaming and making the couscous the instant way, just ignore the grain-related instructions in the recipe, and make the instant couscous according to package instructions five minutes before serving.

Serves 8

1 pound (21/2 cups) instant couscous

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 pound dried chick peas, soaked overnight then drained

About 3 pounds lamb shanks or lamb shoulder, cut into manageable pieces

4 whole chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs

1 large onion, diced

7 scraped carrots, 3 diced and 4 cut into 4-inch lengths

1 12-ounce can of diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon harissa (either homemade or purchased), plus more for serving

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

a big pinch of saffron, crumbled

a large handful of cilantro, including the stems

2 red bell peppers

3 large or 4 medium turnips, pared and cut into 2-inch chunks

2 tablespoons butter

4 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 11/2 inch lengths

8 merguez (lamb sausage, optional)

Sea salt or kosher salt


1. Fill the bottom of your improvised steamer (or couscousier) with enough water to hit just below the bottom of the colander; bring the water to a rapid boil. Spread the couscous in the sheet pan or other large, shallow pan and pour two cups of water over it, toss the couscous to completely moisten and spread it out again. Let stand about a minute, and if there’s any excess water in the bottom, pour it off. Now use your hands to toss the couscous, rubbing the grains gently with your fingers and raking your fingers through the grains to eliminate lumps. Continue until there are no lumps.

2. Put the couscous in the colander — don’t worry; the grains won’t fall through — set it over the rapidly boiling water and steam it, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

3. Put the couscous back in the shallow pan, spread it out, and sprinkle one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon olive oil and one cup cold water over it. Rake your fingers through it to distribute the salt and oil — but carefully, as the couscous will be hot. Then continue raking and breaking up lumps again. When there are no more lumps, spread the couscous evenly again and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes.

4. If you are steaming thrice, refill the pot with water and steam the couscous again for 20 minutes. Repeat step 3, but without adding more salt or oil. If you want to finish making the couscous later in the day, let it cool, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

5. To make the stew, rinse the chicken, separate the legs and thighs, and place them in a large stockpot. Cut the lamb into manageable pieces, if necessary, and add it to the pot. Add the chickpeas, cover with cold water by a couple of inches, and slowly bring to a simmer, skimming any scum that rises to the surface every few minutes. Continue skimming until there’s no scum on the surface, then add the onion, diced carrot, tomatoes, harissa, cinnamon, saffron and cilantro, and stir to combine. Continue simmering over low heat, with the liquid just at a bare bubble. If necessary, add more water so the ingredients are all submerged.

6. While the couscous stew is simmering, heat the broiler. Cut the bell peppers in half, place them cut-side down on a baking sheet and broil until the skins are mostly blackened and blistered. Watch them closely — it will probably take less than 5 minutes. When they’re done, remove them from the oven and put them in a paper bag to cool. (The steam in the bag helps loosen their skins.) Once they’re cool, stem, seed and peel them. Reserve half a pepper for another use, and cut the other three into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Set aside.

7. After the stew has been simmering about an hour and 20 minutes, add the turnips and carrot lengths, and continue to simmer.

8. Ten minutes after the turnips and carrots have been added, steam the couscous for a third time. Rake the couscous through your fingers to remove any lumps, refill the steamer pot with water and bring to a rapid boil. Put the couscous in the colander and steam for 10 minutes. Spread it in the pan, add the butter, toss with spoons or fingers, breaking up lumps, and spread it out again.

9. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and red pepper strips to the stockpot, along with salt to taste (start with a tablespoon, adding more as necessary). Stir to combine.

10. If you’re using merguez, heat a stovetop grill and brush it with oil. Place the merguez on the grill, turning the sausages now and then, to grill on all sides. While they’re grilling, use a ladle to measure one cup of the broth from the stew into a measuring cup. Pour it over the couscous, then let it rest for 10 minutes.

11. Rake your fingers through the couscous a final time, breaking up any lumps. Transfer the couscous to a serving platter and shape it into a mound. Use a slotted spoon and tongs to transfer the lamb, chicken and vegetables from the stew. Be sure to reach the bottom of the pot with the slotted spoon to get the chickpeas. Arrange stew over the couscous, then add the grilled merguez. Ladle some of the remaining broth into a sauceboat, and bring everything to the table.

12. To serve, place couscous, meats, vegetables and chickpeas in large soup plates or pasta plates, and pass the harissa, along with the sauceboat. Each guest can put some harissa in a soup spoon, dilute it with a little broth, and pour it over his or her plate, then add broth to the plate as desired.


Harissa is also available in jars, cans and tubes at select supermarkets, such as Whole Foods Market and Central Market. But if you want something really special, try making it yourself. This makes about one cup of harissa, which is a lot of harissa. It lasts for months in the fridge — just keep it covered with olive oil in an air-tight jar. If you have a mini-food processor, you can make half a recipe, but if you’re using a regular food processor, half isn’t enough to process smoothly. This is a pretty standard harissa recipe; my friend (and former colleague at theL.A. Times) Amy Scattergood formulated the particular combo of chiles I use. But any kind of dried chiles will do.

4 ounces dried chiles (I used equal amounts of New Mexico, chipotles and guajillos)

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

11/2 teaspoons coriander seeds

6 cloves peeled garlic

11/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3-4 tablespoons good quality olive oil


Put the chiles in a bowl, pour boiling water over them to cover, and let them soak for at least a half hour.

While they’re reconstituting, grind the caraway and coriander seeds using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Using rubber gloves (unless you don’t mind stinging skin), cut the chiles open, remove the stems and seeds and place chiles in the bowl of a food processor, along with the garlic and salt. Pulse a few times, then add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and process to a smooth paste, scraping down the sides once or twice and adding more olive oil as necessary.

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