Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Inspired by Renoir: Roasted strawberry/arugula couscous + Greek lamb loukaniko

If you've never checked out Feasting On Art, you should do so immediately.  It really is one of the most inspired food blogs you'll find.  So when it's creator, Megan Fizell, posted a recipe contest, I was SO there.  The challenge?  To create a recipe inspired by Renoir's still life titled, very appropriately, Strawberries.  Creating recipes like this is the theme of Megan's blog and what makes it so wonderfully unique is her fantastic imagination.  I decided if I were to participate, I'd have to pull out all stops and leave caution at the door.  Thankfully, that's my favorite way to cook...

The inspiration: Renoir's Strawberries

I spent some time thinking about not just this painting, but the life of Renoir at the time of painting it, and the man himself.  This piece was done near the end of his career, a time when he abandoned elaborate design and focused on the simple and ruffled beauty of natural still lifes of roses and fruit.  There's a rustic and lush brightness in Strawberries.  Something in it makes me think of  a man that was content with his accomplishments and diving in to the simple pleasures within reach for us all, every day.

The PLC version of Strawberries

For me, the mention of Renoir recalls my Greek grandfather.  He loved the impressionists, as he loved good food.  He'd lived in Paris for years, worked in kitchens and as an apprentice tailor.  I remember him drawing shaky renditions of art he'd seen, then in his 80s, on scraps of paper and explained in frustrated broken English.  I also remember him bringing home loukaniko - a Greek sausage made with fennel seeds and orange rind.  So I thought making some for this would be perfect, made with ground lamb.  Seeing as I wanted to keep this simple, I wouldn't be going thru a full sausage-making process, however.  Just some simple patties seasoned the right way would do.

Of course, the loukaniko patties by themselves really don't show much Impressionist Era inspiration (brown lumps, not really art-worthy). I used couscous because it reminds me of the daubs of paint impressionists use, and of the pointillism works of the time.  I added the strawberries, roasted first to give them smokiness, and wild arugula to give it a nice peppery boost.  I used a Lebanese couscous I found at a grocer - it's the largest I've ever seen and I just couldn't pass it up.  Israeli couscous would work just as well, I'm sure, and be easier to find.

Recipe: Renoir's Roasted Strawberry and Arugula Couscous with Lamb Loukaniko 

What you need to get...

For the loukaniko patties...
1 pound ground lamb (other ground meats work as well)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
The zest of one orange
A splash of red wine (1 tablespoon or so)
Red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

For the couscous...
2 cups cooked Israeli couscous
1/2 cup shallots, sliced
2 cups wild arugula
1 cup hulled and halved strawberries
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

On the side... Greek-style yogurt

What to do with it all...

For the loukaniko, combine all the ingredients and form patties or links depending on your preference
I recommend broiling or pan frying on high heat (or grilling if available) until desired done-ness.  Set aside, loosely covered in tin foil until ready to use.  Reserve meat juice and fat to cook shallots. 

For the couscous, cook shallots on low heat either in meat juices from loukaniko or olive oil until translucent (4 -6 minutes)
Meanwhile, scatter strawberries in a cookie sheet with a lip, or onto tin foil (create a lip to catch juices) and place under broiler on highest setting.  Watch strawberries carefully and remove as soon as there is some blackening.  The time varies widely based on your broiler.  Remove and set aside until plating your finished dish.
When shallots are translucent, add your cooked couscous, arugula, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Turn burner up to medium and toss.  Cook until heated thoroughly and arugula is slightly wilted (a couple of minutes).

Plate cous cous, top with loukaniko, strawberries and a dollop of yogurt!


  1. Your version of strawberries is simply an ART! I love it.
    The combination of couscous and ground lamb sounds fascinating!

  2. Gorgeous! A truly inspired recipe, the couscous is so pretty!

  3. Love your real life arrangement.. Soo inviting and gorgeous!

  4. If you don't win, it's a travesty. You re-created the painting for crying out loud! (Is that an Ikea tea towel? We have those.)

    Well written and snapped as always Mathea. Bien fait! x

  5. @Angie - The lamb with strawberries works really well, it's a bit surprising but great - the orange peel in the lamb works well with the sweetness.

    @5 Star Foodie & Asha - thanks so much!

    @Mr P - Yes, it IS an IKEA towel, tee hee!

  6. What a beautiful concept, Miss Artiste! :) I so badly want to make a veggie version, although I hope mine doesn't look as gorgeous as your because I probably couldn't bring myself to eat a painting...x

  7. Hi Mae,

    I just nominated you for the Sunshine Award! I hope you will accept! :)

    Have a great day!

    Gwen (bunkycooks)

  8. Mae, I love your still life photo. It's a beautiful homage to the painting. We just made a strawberry cobbler, and we have tons of arugula in the garden right now that we have to use quick because it's all flowering. So your couscous really caught my attention. Just have to figure out what to do instead of the lamb. Maybe just some parm added to the risotto? I'll have to confer with Sanjana to see what she's come up with.

  9. @Sanjana & Vegetable Matter - I was thinking maybe falafel as a veggie version? I bet it would be good with a little orange zest...

  10. Mae, this is so creative a post...! The strawberry couscous is just something so super pretty..that I can't pass up on making it :) The paties looks great too...

    but the couscous is plain mind blowing :)

  11. I love your post! What a touching story, and a brilliant idea, art as food, food as art, ahhh, just the kind of candy my brain looooves. Thanks for stopping by my blog btw :)

  12. that just looks stunning! stop by my blog and pick up your award

  13. this is lovely.
    well done on the homage to renoir

  14. Lovely as usual!
    Feasing on Art sounds like something I should check out. Thanks.

  15. Looks great but you didn't include a painting of YOUR dish.
    From the Banquet Manager

  16. Bookmarking! This sounds delicious and looks lovely.

  17. Yum that "PLC version" picture of strawberries is lovely, and your whole dish just looks fantastic. Thanks for posting the recipe!

  18. I thought this was beautious when I saw it! Congrats on Top 9!

  19. This is such an AWESOME idea! So impressed!!!

  20. That big cous cous is my new favorite grain. It is super delicious and quick and easy to make, mm!

  21. As a faux artist, I truly enjoyed this post. Before I read it, I was already attracted to the picture, the composition of it. I used to use my samples for backdrops and haven't done that for a while. I'm reinspired.

  22. hi mathea I love the strawberry touch with the couscous very original !! Pierre

  23. This is such an inviting dish, and you have picked the perfect bowl to complement the colours :)

  24. What an amazing and creative way to show off great food, thanks!

  25. That strawberry photo is AMAZING....

  26. Fantastic arrangement mimicing Renoir. I have to imagine he would smile and appreciate the recreation.

  27. wow, that is so cool! very beautiful photos.

  28. Wonderful. Congratulations .

  29. Congratulations on winning the contest - your still life is STUNNING

  30. I absolutely love how much thought you put into this dish! Congrats on the contest. The flavors and seasoning are perfect and I loved the backstory that you shared with it!

  31. never thought to pair strawberries with couscous! The whole combo looks amazing, thanks for sharing the recipes!

  32. I made this recipe for a New Year's Brunch, and it received rave reviews. The Panettone gives it great texture and flavor. I am making it again this year. I did roast the fruit a few days earlier, and added the croutons and dressing just before serving. Yum!


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