Welcome Spring With Lamb Couscous

Lamb may be the most universal food of spring, traditional in many cuisines. A lamb dish, therefore, is a good way to welcome the season.

Rice pilafs with lamb are common in many countries. These grain-based dishes – which often contain a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts as well as meat – can serve as a model for health-protective meals.

The American adaptation of a traditional pilaf below, with its one-third to two-thirds proportion of meats to whole grains and other plant-based foods, has a place in the ideal diet for reducing the risk of chronic health problems and cancer. It has a high-fiber content and keeps calories from fat modest.

The dried fruits and nuts in Middle Eastern pilafs are rich in substances that have been studied for their anti-cancer properties. Apricots are especially rich in beta-carotene, and foods high in this phytochemical seem to help decrease the risk of lung and oral cancers, and may also play a role in slowing the progression of cancer. Raisins are rich in flavonoids, which defends against carcinogens and also help prevent heart disease, stroke and possibly infections as well. With proper trimming, cooking and portion size, lamb can be a part of a healthful diet. Shop for lamb with a pinkish red color and finely-grained texture.

Fragrant Lamb and Couscous Pilaf - Makes 8 servings.

1 Tbsp. freshly grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. ground anise seed (or fennel seed)
1/2 tsp. ground cardamon
1 tsp. ground coriander, divided
1 tsp. salt
6 oz. lamb (loin chop or tenderloin), in thin, bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
1 box (10 oz.) couscous (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup dried apricots cut into slivers
1/2 cup Sultanas (golden raisins)
3 cups boiling water, divided
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, unsalted, or slivered almonds
2 cups frozen green peas
Salt and white pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves (optional)

Mix together orange zest, anise (or fennel) seed, cardamon, half the coriander and salt. Rub into the lamb. Let stand 30 to 60 minutes.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add couscous and stir, cooking 1 to 2 minutes, until grains turn translucent and shiny. Remove from heat. Mix in remaining coriander, apricots and raisins. Pour in 2 cups of boiling water, stirring briskly. Cover and let stand 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast nuts in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Transfer nuts to a small bowl.

Stir couscous with fork to fluff grains. Add remaining boiling water. Place peas on top of couscous. Cover and let stand 5 minutes more.

Heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb and sauté until lightly browned. Transfer meat to the bowl with nuts. Fluff couscous with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix in lamb and nuts. Top with mint, if desired, and serve.

Per serving: 332 calories, 9 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 50 g. carbohydrate, 13 g. protein, 5 g. dietary fiber, 311 mg. sodium.

The Author:

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on diet and cancer and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $82 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its Web site, http://www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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