I really, really wanted to find some merguez for use in this dish. I also thought some harissa would be good to have. Unfortunately, I could find neither. Merguez and harissa just don’t seem to be that common in grocery stores near Raleigh. The closest equivalent I could find was Italian sausage. If I somehow overlooked it and someone can point to me some, please post in the comments below!
Merguez, you see, is a type of spicy lamb sausage originally from the north of Africa (Morroco, Algeria…). It’s popular in Europe and often used in tagines or stews. Lamb is the common meat used in merguez, not the pork I ended up using. It is made with a range of spices, paprika is probably the most common one. The other item I couldn’t find was harissa. It is a spicy pepper paste/sauce. It’s would have been a great condiment to dollop a bit over the top of the served dish for some extra heat.
But let’s stop talking about what could have been and talk about what was. Even without the merguez and harissa I consider this dish a success. As a bonus, the dish was really cheap and easy, the most expensive ingredient was the sausage. A pound of lentils, a couple carrots and an onion don’t add up to much in the way of cost. Besides being ridiculously cheap, it was also very flavorful and simple to make. It wasn’t quite as easy as the toasted chickpea salad, but this dish should be easy enough for anyone.
Because I couldn’t find the sausage of the right flavor, I had to make do with adding the spices directly to the entire pot. I was so pleased with the results that even if I do eventually find merguez, I’d still put spices directly into the pot. Using a combination of beef and vegetable broth helped round out the flavors and the sun-dried tomatoes give an extra depth of flavor. I would not recommend substituting the broth out with water as that will dilute the flavor of the beans. You could probably replace the sun-dried tomatoes with a small can of diced ones, but if you can get the real thing, you won’t be disappointed.
Lentils and Sausage
12 sun-dried tomatoes, not in oil
1/2-1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound sausage, preferably merguez, Spicy Italian will do, cut into 1/2 to 1 1/2 inch rounds
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp Spanish smoked paprika
1 tbsp turmeric
1 lb lentils
2 cups beef stock
2 cups vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Harissa, if you can find it
1. In a small bowl, cover the sun-dried tomatoes with the 1/2 to 1 cup boiling water (just enough to cover them all by a little bit, they will plump up and expand in the water). Set aside. Heat the oven to 300F.
2. In a large pot over med to med-high heat, add the oil and heat until it just shimmers. Add the sausage and sear until it has browned on all sides. Rotate the sausages after about 45-60 seconds, or whenever a light brown crust develops.
3. Remove the sausage and all but 1 or 2 tsps of the fat. Add the diced onion and carrot and sauté over medium heat until the onion just turns translucent, about 2-3 minutes. As this cooks remove the tomatoes from the water, keeping the water for use in the next step. Slice the tomatoes into thin strips. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and the spices to the pot, stir to mix everything together.
4. Add the beef and vegetable stocks and the reserved water used to soak the tomatoes. Add the sausage, leaving any of the drained fat behind. Bake, uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid is gone (there will still be some in the pot, that is fine).
Variation Make it a soup by increasing the stocks by one cup each, for a total of at least two extra cups of liquid. Cook as normal and serve.