Couscous is wonderful and fun, the rock star of Moroccan cuisine.
Couscous is native to Morocco, and the word refers to both the grain and the traditional dish made with the grain. It is semolina, or durum (the heart of the wheat kernel), ground to the consistency of coarse cornmeal and mixed with flour and just enough water to make small grains, about the size of millet grains. These plump grains are then dried, preferably in the hot sun. Prepared couscous is very easy to find in bulk at most health food and grocery stores. Let me reassure you, you won’t need to do any of this: Beautiful, plump, and no-cooking, ready-to-use couscous is available everywhere.
Sometimes grain sold as couscous is actually a couscous-shaped (usually larger) pasta, affectionately called Israeli couscous, which is not suitable in traditional couscous recipes. Although the combinations of vegetables and meats vary greatly, the structure of the dish called couscous always remains the same. We love to make this “sweet couscous” on Rosh Hashanah, to usher in a sweet new year. It is the custom for some Jews not to use any nuts during the Holiday of Rosh Hashanah: simply skip them.
This is a whole meal, so do not get daunted by the lengthy ingredient list!
Low-gluten and gluten-free couscous: I make couscous with barley couscous for low gluten: Look for it in Indian grocery stores or online. I don’t recommend the whole-wheat couscous, as it has an objectionable somewhat-bitter aftertaste. Gluten-free: Try the wonderful brown rice couscous now on the market. You will also find it online. I just love to have couscous on hand, as it needs no cooking and is ready at the drop of a hat (instructions below) to throw in salads or vegetable burgers, or even dessert, sprinkled with a little Sucanat and cinnamon and mixed with a little oil or ghee, with a few golden raisins added.
This recipe is excerpted from my new cookbook: The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple.
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 large onions, peeled and quartered
- 2 good pinches saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 2 pounds thin carrots, or butternut squash (unpeeled) cut into 2-inch chunks
- 3 cups dried fruit: raisins, apricots, prunes, in any combination you like (if you would
- rather choose just one kind, let it be the apricots)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons orange flower water
- 3 cups couscous
- 3 cups boiling water
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup toasted whole or slivered blanched almonds
Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Coarsely grind the onions in a food processor and add to the hot oil. Reduce the flame to medium and fry until dark, stirring occasionally. This step will take about 20 minutes. Add the saffron, turmeric, cinnamon sticks, pepper, salt, carrots, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium and cook covered for 30 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients and cook 15 more minutes.
While the dish is cooking, prepare couscous grain: Place the grain in a stainless steel bowl—with the oil, salt and pepper, and water—and mix thoroughly. Immediately cover very tightly with 2 layers of foil. Let the mixture rest 15 minutes, then fluff it with 2 forks until the grains are separated.
To serve: Pour the couscous grain in the bottom of a platter. Pour some of the cooking broth evenly on the grain, only as much as the grain will absorb. Don’t allow a mushy or soupy look. Arrange vegetables and fruit over the grain. Sprinkle the whole dish with the toasted almonds. Pass any remaining broth in a gravy boat. Serve with harissa on the side . Makes 8 ample servings.
Meat and poultry variations:
- If you would like to include chicken: Add chicken legs, thighs, and half breasts (about 1 dozen pieces total) at the same time you add the saffron, turmeric, cinnamon sticks, pepper, salt, and carrots and bring the water to 3 cups. Cook covered for 1 hour. Add all remaining ingredients (dried fruit and spices) and cook 15 more minutes.
- If you would like to include beef, bison, or lamb (about 3½ pounds): Cook the meat in a separate pot in 6 cups water for 2 hours. Add the meat and its cooking liquids at the same time you add the saffron, turmeric, cinnamon sticks, pepper, salt, and carrots. Make sure you have enough liquids, add a little water if necessary to a total of about 3 cups. Cook covered for 1 hour. Add all remaining ingredients (dried fruit and spices) and cook 15 more minutes.