Results tagged “couscous”

Chicken couscous with onion relish

This recipe is based on one given by Clifford Wright, an expert on Mediterranean cuisines and their histories.  I have made some changes to reflect my own culinary experiences in Morocco and personal taste.  This is not a quick or easy dish, but fantastic for feeding a crowd.  The chicken, vegetables and relish look magnificent piled on top of a vast mound of steaming couscous in the centre of the table.  Serve it with rose harissa sauce, for a fragrant chilli kick.

smchickencouscousplated0003.JPGClifford tells us that couscous might have a sub-Saharan origin, and that the origin of the word may be Berber.  Having seen couscous cookery in Senegal and Mali, I can believe this.  One of its benefits is that it can be steamed over your pot of stew, so you only need one fire, which need not be a roaring hot one.  So it is practical and economical, not to mention delicious.

Couscous aux légumes d'hiver anglais

One of Morocco’s most celebrated dishes is ‘couscous aux sept légumes’.  Seven is a lucky number in Morocco, and each region and city has its own variant version of this wonderful dish.  Some say it should be made with not only seven different vegetables, but also seven spices and seven-year-old aged butter, called smen, for maximum good fortune.  By these standards this recipe is pretty charmed.  (I’m counting the chickpeas and the chillies.)

Having greatly enjoyed eating and helping make this dish several times during our time in Morocco, I couldn’t wait to try it at home.  Normally, you’d expect to see fresh tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and the like, but I couldn’t wait for summer.  So here is my winter version, employing all the usual suspect British root vegetables from our organic box.  We’re lucky enough to have a small pot of delicious homemade smen given to us by a kind woman we encountered in the mountains near Taliouine (of saffron fame).  It smells like blue cheese and adds a unique rich savoury note to the couscous.  If you don’t happen to have any aged butter, use regular butter or Indian ghee instead.  If you like, you can mash blue cheese into some butter to mimic the smen flavour.

Smcouscouswinterveg0001.jpgI’ve simplified the recipe by using tinned chickpeas, quick-cook couscous and water or stock.  For the real deal, you should really cook the chickpeas from scratch (soaking them in advance and then peeling them), roll and steam your own couscous (steaming it three times over the simmering vegetables), and use a hunk or two of meat to make the broth.  It is also sometimes served with a delicious sweet relish of caramelised onions and raisins.  But this simple way works just fine, and there’s no need for any meat.  The vegetables come out most delicately tender and exquisitely flavoured; you may be surprised how delicious turnip and swede can be.

For a traditional Moroccan banquet such magnificent couscous dishes would be served following the meat course and before the desserts.  But they are really meals in themselves.  To eat, people cluster around the giant communal dish, usually sitting on cushions or benches around a low table, and eat with their hands.  As we found, the knack of shaking handfuls of couscous into neat balls and then popping them into your mouth, using just your right hand and without smearing food all over your face, is one that requires considerable dexterity.  After embarrassing ourselves on numerous occasions, we slowly learnt that it’s all in the wrist action, and the use of the soft, moist vegetables as glue to bind the couscous.  This is great party food!

Morocco part 1: tea and crumpets

Smtaginetomatoes0001.JPGWe didn't quite know what to expect from Morocco - we'd heard very different and conflicting reports.  To some people, it's the home of one of the world's classic cuisines, and some of the best street food you'll find anywhere; to others, it's apparently an interminable round of underspiced vegetable tagines.  Which would we find?

We knew some things, of course - but there was a lot more we didn't know.  We knew they ate a lot of couscous here - but what is it actually made of, and how?  We had to make it our mission to find out.  (Our friend Robert told us we really didn't need to go all the way to Morocco for this - Smfesbeghrirplate0001.JPGjust buy a packet from Waitrose and pour boiling water on it.  And he has a point.  But it turned out there's a lot more to it than that).

And we knew they drank a lot of tea, too.  But we really weren't expecting the crumpets ...


Culinary Anthropologist