Spicy tagine lamb kefta with buttery couscous

More tagine magic, below. See here for a similar tagine recipe from last year.

Fewer friends as we age. Is that okay? Is that normal?

The Wall Street Journal has an insightful article on why many of us tend to have fewer and fewer friends as we get older, starting, say, around age 30 and steadily continuing into our “golden age” (and the “golden” part is what again?). The main idea is that we do lose friends, but we’re much closer to the ones we keep.

I tend to be fairly gregarious and outgoing by nature and had a great many friends when I was younger, raising a family. But divorce, job changes, and moving around the country pretty much wiped them all out. It bothered me for awhile, but then I remembered that real friends are those who are there for you when the chips are down. We all know that — we just tend to forget. New friends came along wherever I lived, then went away (many of them) when my wife and I moved again.

Yes, we do tend to get choosier as we age. A few years ago we became “friends” here in Maine with another couple who, after several get-togethers, became less and less like friends and increasingly like people who need to be avoided. The last time we spoke with them, by phone, they were inviting us to dinner, and we said, in so many words, no thanks. We had no excuses, we didn’t gloss it over, we just said “no thanks.” Wham bang seeya! End of “friendship.”

I’ve spoken with several others my age, and we all seem to be in agreement. We’re more particular about whom we consort with. Fussy. Curmudgeonly, even. My own set of “rules” for people who may become friends is pretty basic: you have to be real, you can’t be fakey and insincere or shallow or overly dramatic or egocentric or posturing or bigoted or really stupid or overly competitive or narcissistic or narrow-minded or angry at the world or mean-spirited, and it would be nice if you listened as much as you talked and were as interested in us as we are in you. So simple! So simple, in fact, that there are a lot of you still left.

The same goes for my clients. I’m semi-retired, but over the course of my career I’ve had several dozen writing clients – mostly video and media producers – and over time I dropped several of them like a bad habit simply because I didn’t like them very much. I have two steady clients now, and I like them both a great deal. We are as much friends now as business associates. It feels right all around.

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Jerry (in hat) and yours truly doing boat repair at the Coastal Children’s Museum. Jerry’s gone, but leaves a rich legacy. (Carla White photo)

 

 

The worst way to lose friends, of course, is when they die. Jerry, our very best closest friend here in Maine – as much a brother as a friend – died last summer of heart failure. He was just 70, my age, but had a slew of health problems that eventually caught up with him. My wife and I did plenty of crying when he left us. But we are now good friends with his brother and sister and brother-in-law, and that’s a special legacy of his that we greatly value.

So my thought is, if you’re in your 60s or 70s and can count your real true-blue friends on the fingers of one hand, don’t sweat it. First, you’ve got plenty of company! Second, it’s no brain-drainer that quality always beats quantity. And chances are your very best friend is your partner or spouse (if you have one), and a close second is the person you see in the mirror.

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Spicy lamb kefta with buttery couscous – another tagine adventure!

DSC_0265smallV2Tagine-cooked spicy lamb balls, and buttery couscous with toasted almonds (my pic)

To make this dish, it’s helpful to have a tagine (or tajine), like this —

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— but not essential. You can get pretty much the same effect in a dutch oven or iron pot with a loose-fitting lid so everything steams very nicely. But the tagine makes it easier, and it’s fun to look at. Make sure you have a heat diffuser to sit under the base of the tagine so it doesn’t shatter.

So here’s how to make it, in two parts:

The lamb part

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tsps. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander

(The last three are optional. Use them if you want a true Moroccan taste. Frankly, I’m not wild about these flavors with lamb, but I’ll leave it up to you.)

Mix all these together in a bowl and roll them into walnut-sized balls, or kefta, and set aside. The original instructions for this dish ask you to “pound the meat with your knuckles in a bowl.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not into knuckling meat. The ground lamb is tender enough already, so it doesn’t need to be knuckled.

Wait – there’s more!

  • 1 tbsp. each butter and olive oil
  • 1 more onion, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 red chile, sliced
  • 2 tsps. turmeric
  • small bunch cilantro leaves
  • small bunch mint leaves
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • lemon wedges from yet another lemon
  • water

Again, leave the mint out unless you want a shock to your taste buds.

Here’s what to do:

Heat the oil and butter in the tagine base, with a heat diffuser underneath. Add onion, garlic, ginger and chile and cook until they start to brown. Add turmeric and 1/2 of the cilantro and mint (optional), and add about 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil. reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Now add the lamb balls (kefta) in the liquid, cover and poach for 15 minutes over low heat. Roll them around a couple of times to make sure they’re cooking evenly. Now pour in the lemon juice, season the liquid with salt, and tuck in the lemon edges amongst the lamb balls. Poach covered for another 10 minutes.

Sprinkle over the remaining cilantro and mint leaves (optional!), and serve with buttery couscous, below:

The buttery couscous part

  • 2 cups couscous
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 2/3 cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter cut into small pieces

For the top, when it’s done:

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 4-5 tbsp. slivered almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350. Pour the couscous into a mound in an ovenproof fish. Stir the salt into the water, and pour it gently and evenly over the couscous mound. Let this sit for about 10 minutes until the couscous has absorbed all the water.

Using your fingers, gently rub the oil into the couscous to break up any lumps. Scatter the butter pieces over the mound and cover loosely with foil. Put the dish in the oven and cook for 15 minutes until the couscous is hot.

Meanwhile, saute the almond slices in the butter until golden, and drain on paper towels. Remove the couscous from the oven, fluff with a fork, scatter the almonds on top, and bring the serving dish to the table, along with the tagine of lamb balls. Have people serve themselves, spooning the lamb over the couscous.

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Again, I’m not crazy about the popular Moroccan spices of cinnamon, cumin, and mint with a savory meat like lamb, so next time we’ll probably use herbs and spices that are more savory. But if you want the real Moroccan thing, there it is.

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.