As winter entrenches in earnest, I am constantly devising ways to lift my mood. One way is through hosting — having (select) people around is happy-making for me, and it usually involves cooking.

This dinner came together as a result of a semi-impromptu gathering of friends. I say semi-impromptu because the lamb takes about 5 hours to cook, so it does require a bit of notice. 

But after the holiday season, there tends to be a social lull, so that’s a great time to throw a party. Maybe not the first week, but by mid-January, people are looking for activity. We planned this the night before, and ended up with a dinner for 10. 

The lamb is a low-stress preparation; once you throw everything in the pan and cover it, you essentially ignore it for 5 or 6 hours and you really can’t overcook it. It is somewhere between a braise and a roast; it’s not super-liquidy, but it’s plenty moist and falling apart when served.

The couscous is a snap and can be tweaked to your preference. I liked the color combo and the Middle Eastern flavors that I put together here; the dill and chives complemented the pomegranates beautifully, but you can use whatever ingredients you like — or serve the couscous plain.

I had a trusted friend bring the veggies — a garlicky version of green beans almondine — and it was a bit of lily gilding because the lamb was plenty rich. A simple green salad or some steamed greens would have probably married better, but no complaints.

For dessert, we had assorted cookies and chocolates, but fresh fruit or sorbet would have punctuated this repast well.

Mediterranean lamb

Serves 10

The olives in this dish add tremendous flavor. I used Spanish-style pitted olives filled with pimentos.

1 large lamb shoulder, about 5 pounds (if smaller, use 2)

1 large onion, chopped

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

¼ cup chopped garlic

5 stalks rosemary

1 pint pimento-stuffed olives with about ¼ cup juice

1 lemon cut in quarters

1½ cups red wine

1½ cups water

Heat your oven to 300 degrees. In a large roasting pan, place the chopped onions. Place the lamb on top.

Coat the lamb with salt, pepper and garlic. Top it with rosemary, olives with juice and lemon wedges. Some of these may roll down into the bottom of pan; this is fine.

Pour the wine and water over the lamb. Cover it tightly with foil and roast it in the oven for 5 hours. Check the lamb about midway through cooking to ensure that there is sufficient liquid in the pan. You are not looking for a lot of liquid, but you don’t want it to be dried out. There should be about a minimum of an inch depth.

The lamb is done when it is falling off the bone and easily pulls apart with a fork. Pull it apart and serve it with some of the cooking liquid and the olives.

Colorful Israeli couscous

Colorful Israeli couscous.

Colorful Israeli couscous

Serves 8

I used toum, that glorious Lebanese condiment, to keep the couscous from sticking together, but if that is not readily available, you can use olive oil, mayonnaise, broth or make your own toum by pureeing garlic, oil, salt and lemon.

The herb selection is cook’s choice, and you can tweak it to your preference with other ingredients as well, depending on the rest of your menu. Toasted walnuts? Feta cheese? Cooked chicken? Chickpeas? The sky’s the limit.

1 tablespoon oil 

3 cups Israeli couscous

1 onion, chopped

A few pinches of salt, generous grinding of fresh pepper

4½ cups broth

½ cup toum (or mayonnaise, salad dressing, olive oil, broth, etc.)

½ cup chopped fresh dill

½ cup chopped fresh chives

½ cup pomegranate seeds

In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions until fragrant. Add the salt, pepper and couscous, and allow it to coat.

Add the broth and bring it to a boil. Cover, lower the heat and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Taste the couscous. If it is still hard in the middle, add some more broth and cook it until it is soft in the middle.

Remove the couscous from the heat, add the toum, stir to coat and add dill, chives and pomegranate. Save the remaining herbs and seeds as garnish.

When ready to serve, sprinkle the remaining herbs and pomegranates atop the couscous. JN

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