Gently spiced dishes based on the subtly sweet flavours of North Africa are perfect for balmy English summer meals, says Skye Gyngell

These dishes are loosely based on the cuisine of North Africa – their flavours are warm and spicy, with slightly sweet undertones. Ground whole spices are used in abundance, as are plenty of fresh herbs – especially coriander and mint – plus fresh and dried chillies and perhaps a little lemon.

I love this kind of food and I'm often drawn to cook it during the summer. Though this may seem a little strange, it is the vibrancy of these dishes that works so well for me at this time of year.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Shoulder of lamb with red pepper, sweet paprika and black olives

Serves 6

1 shoulder of lamb, trimmed of most of its fat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp fennel seeds, warmed in a low oven then pounded in a pestle and mortar
1 bunch of marjoram, leaves only
4 peeled cloves of garlic, pounded
3 red peppers, sliced into half-inch slices
11/2 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
500g/1lb ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 bottle dry white wine
A handful of good-quality small black olives
1 generous bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Place a pan large enough to comfortably hold the lamb over a medium heat. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper and, when the pan is hot, add the shoulder and brown well all over – this will take about 10 minutes.

Remove the meat from the pan, turn down the heat slightly, pour off any excess fat and add the onions, dried chilli, fennel seeds and marjoram. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are really soft, add the garlic, red peppers and sweet paprika. Cook for five minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes. Turn the heat up slightly and, when bubbling, add the white wine. Reduce a little, return the browned lamb to the pot, cover and place on the middle shelf of the warmed oven. Cook gently for three hours, by which time the lamb should be falling from the bone and the sweet peppers melting into the juices. Remove from the oven and add the olives. Taste for seasoning and serve with plenty of roughly chopped parsley.

Mushy courgettes with garlic and mint

For me, this is the nicest way to cook courgettes – slowly, with lashings of garlic, olive oil and mint. You can serve it with almost anything: roast chicken, grilled fish or just brown rice flavoured with lemon juice and plenty of parsley. Look for small courgettes with tight, unblemished skin.

Serves 6

6 medium-sized courgettes
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
50g/2oz unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Sea salt
1 medium bunch of mint, leaves only
The juice of half a lemon

Wash and pat dry the courgettes, then, using a sharp knife, slice as finely as possible. Place the oil and butter in a heavy-based pan over a low heat and allow the butter to melt. Add the courgettes and the garlic. Add a good pinch of salt and cover. Cook very gently for an hour, stirring from time to time to ensure the courgettes do not stick to the bottom of the pan. They should slowly begin to fall apart and, once finished, have the texture of a rough purée. Chop the mint finely and stir through, then adjust the seasoning – it will more than likely need a little more salt and, perhaps, a squeeze of lemon juice – and serve.

Grilled poussin with harissa

This dish works best when it is cooked on a barbecue. Season the meat the day before so that it is deeply flavourful, warm, spicy and rich. Harissa is a good match, its flavour punchy and hot.

Serves 4

4 poussins
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp cumin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 dried red chilli
Sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Ask your butcher to spatchcock the birds, and place them in a large container. Put the spices, garlic, chilli and salt into a mortar and grind with a pestle until you have a rough paste, then stir in the olive oil. Rub this mix over the chickens, cover, and place in the fridge for 24 hours, removing an hour before you are ready to grill. Heat your barbecue and, when the coals have died down, cook the chicken skin-side down for 15 minutes, moving it around every now and then so it doesn't brown too much in any one place. Turn and cook the underneath for a further 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

For the harissa

1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 red peppers
2 red onions
1 bunch of coriander
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp dried mint
2 red chillis, seeds removed and chopped
6 ripe plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
Sea salt
1 bunch of mint, leaves only
1 further bunch of coriander
1 bunch of basil, leaves only
11/2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
120ml/4fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Place the spices in the oven and warm through over a low heat. When warm, remove and pound together with a pestle and mortar. Remove the seeds from the peppers and chop into big chunks. Peel and roughly chop the onions, wash the coriander and place all together into a roasting tray, adding the pounded spices, chopped garlic, dried mint, red chillis and tomatoes. Season with a good pinch of salt. Cover tightly with aluminium foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven for an hour, at which point the peppers and onion should be so soft that they are beginning to fall apart. Remove, and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in a blender, along with the fresh herbs, vinegar and olive oil. Add a further pinch of salt and purée until almost smooth. This harissa will last for about three days in the fridge, after which it will not taste quite as vibrant. Spoon over the chicken just before serving.