By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
One of the beautiful things about sausages is that, as long as they contain enough fat to crisp up in all the right places, you can fill them with almost anything.
In the United States, pork predominates, though turkey, chicken, tofu and vegan versions are gaining ground, available in some form at supermarkets across the country. Less common are sausages made from lamb and beef, particularly merguez, and these are worth seeking out, at least for a once-in-a-while treat.
A traditional North African sausage, a merguez link is thin, long, spiked with garlic, cumin and fennel, and colored brick red from chile-laden harissa. According to cookbook author Paula Wolfert in “The Food of Morocco,” the best are shot through with finely diced lamb tail fat, making them especially succulent.
I can’t say whether the ones I’ve eaten here in New York contained any lamb tail fat. Nevertheless, when grilled until nearly bursting and devoured steaming and glistening with piquant ruddy grease, they are thrillingly spicy, deeply satisfying and a cinch to make.
Like all kinds of sausages, merguez are an ultimate convenience food: preseasoned and ready to go. In North Africa, merguez are served stuffed into sandwiches, grilled and paired with flatbread to catch the drips, or simmered into tagines as part of a more elaborate meal with couscous. For this recipe, I’ve veered lighter, using the rich, brawny sausages in a summery, vegetable-packed salad.
Couscous makes up the foundation, a fluffy bed to absorb all the meaty juices. To this, I’ve added loads of fresh cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and herbs, plus radishes marinated in a little lemon juice and cumin until they have softened into floppy pickles. Lastly, for crunch, I sprinkle pine nuts or almonds over the top.
Until recently, it could be easier to make merguez than to buy them, but that’s changing fast. While you won’t see them next to the hot Italian links in every grocery store, they are becoming more available at butcher shops, large supermarkets and online. But you also can use any other kind of sausage here, preferably something with a fiery bite to contrast with the juicy sweetness of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers.
That’s yet another advantage of sausages: the ability to substitute one for the other — and still have the dish come out perfectly.
Recipe: Grilled Merguez and Onions With Mint-Lemon Couscous
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 45 minutes
- 2 1/4 cups boiling water
- 2 cups couscous (regular or whole wheat)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more as needed
- 2 lemons
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes
- 1 red onion, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch wedges
- 8 ounces merguez (lamb or beef)
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup roughly chopped mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves and stems, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
1. Make the couscous: In a medium, heat-resistant bowl, combine boiling water, couscous and 1 teaspoon salt, and cover with a plate or lid. Let sit until the water is absorbed, 7 to 12 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, light the grill to medium-high or heat your broiler with the rack 3 inches from the heat source.
3. Halve lemons crosswise and then squeeze the juice from one half into a large bowl. Add cumin, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Slowly whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil. Stir in radishes and set aside to marinate.
4. Place onion wedges and remaining 3 lemon halves, cut-side down, in a grill basket and grill until charred on one side only, 2 to 4 minutes. Or place on a sheet pan and broil until charred, 5 minutes. Transfer onions and lemons to a cutting board.
5. Either on the grill, or on the same sheet pan as you used for the onions, grill or broil merguez until browned all over, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer sausages to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm while you assemble the salad.
6. When onion is cool enough to handle, dice it and add to radishes. Fold in couscous, tomatoes, 1/2 cup mint, 1/2 cup parsley, cucumbers, nuts and a large pinch of salt. Squeeze the juice from a charred lemon half into the bowl. Taste and add more salt and lemon, if needed. Slice merguez on a bias into 1/2-inch pieces.
7. To serve, spoon couscous salad onto a platter, then top with sausages and any accumulated juices. Garnish with remaining herbs and a big drizzle of olive oil, and serve with remaining charred lemon halves on the side for more squeezing.
And to Drink …
I love slender, spicy merguez, and I especially love the sausages with couscous, as in this recipe. With the brightness added by tomatoes and cucumbers, I’m thinking of a light, refreshing wine that won’t clash with the heat of the merguez. Rosé is the answer, especially those from the south of France, whether Provence, Languedoc or Irouléguy, which offer freshness and juiciness that will harmonize well with the dish. The rosé does not have to be French. I recently had a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, a dark rosé made with the montepulciano grape, that was wonderfully refreshing — it would have been delicious with this dish. So would Spanish or American rosés, as long as they are dry and light. If you want a red, try a restrained grenache or a gamay. — Eric Asimov