I Slather This Minty Tzatziki on Almost Everything, but It's Perfect with Merguez Sausage
Merguez is a Maghrebi (Northwest African) lamb sausage spiced with cumin, coriander and fennel seeds as well as harissa. In this installment of Diaspora Dining, Jessica B. Harris' series on foods of the African diaspora, the author and historian recalls visits to Morocco, and offers her recipe for tzatziki (with plenty of mint), the Greek yogurt sauce she loves with merguez. While you're cooking the sausages, tossing in some peppers, onions and scallions makes for a delicious addition.
A friend's recent trip to Marrakesh turned my mind to thoughts of Morocco. It was his first visit to the African continent, and I sent him a version of the song "Marrakesh Express" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which is music more from my generation than his. Then I begin to think of my many visits to the oldest of Morocco's Imperial Cities. I thought of walks through the souks (bazaars) with my friend Fatema Hal, of visiting decades ago with my mother, and of an early trip with a boyfriend when we spent one day skiing in the High Atlas Mountains.
Eventually, my mind turned to food. I remembered how perfectly some of the food of the North African kingdom fits into the grilling culture of the United States. Lamb chops seasoned with cumin and coriander are naturals for grilled feasts, as are butterflied legs of lamb redolent of ras el hanout and other spices that recall the scents of the spice sellers. And could there be anything more perfect than merguez sausages?
The small, spicy lamb sausages turn up in many places on Moroccan tables. They can be served as part of an appetizer spread, be added to some variants of couscous and may even find their way onto some plates solo as the star attraction. I like them the latter way, especially when they provide a zesty surprise alongside other grilled fare. I'm particularly fond of them when they are accompanied by my fresh-mint-spiked tzatziki.
After all, those decades of British mint sauces and the Day-Glo green mint jelly that always accompanied leg of lamb on my childhood tables have made me think automatically of mint when lamb is mentioned. Let's face it, mint is a natural with lamb. And when combined with garlic, cucumber and creamy Greek-style yogurt, it becomes a condiment I like to use on so many things—slathered on lollipop lamb chops, mixed with oil and vinegar to create a salad dressing, and with chilled poached fish it's lovely. When it accompanies merguez, the yogurt attenuates the heat of the sausage somewhat, while the garlic and mint add another level of flavor complexity. If you're like me, you'll keep some on hand and use it with almost everything.
This essay is part of the series Diaspora Dining: Foods of the African Diaspora. In this monthly column with essays and recipes by Jessica B. Harris, Ph.D., we explore the rich culinary traditions of the African diaspora.Harris is a culinary historian and the author of 13 books related to the African diaspora, including Vintage Postcards from the African World (University Press of Mississippi), My Soul Looks Back (Scribner) and High on the Hog (Bloomsbury USA), on which the Netflix documentary series High on the Hogis based. She is the 2020 recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. For more from Harris on EatingWell, see Migration Meals: How African American Food Transformed the Taste of America and her Juneteenth Celebration Menu. Follow her on Instagram @drjessicabharris.
Merguez are readily available at many butcher shops and supermarkets and also online from companies like D'Artagnan, Fresh Direct, Instacart and Amazon.