Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Moroccan Style Couscous

Couscous in Morocco is traditionally eaten on Fridays during lunch time, following the Friday mid-day prayers, similar to the idea of a Sunday roast after church. It's usually a family affair, and is eaten off of a giant central platter. If you're good, you can eat it with your hands, forming a ball of veggies, meat and couscous and popping it into your mouth. Otherwise, you can just use a large spoon. Also, it's often served with "rayb" Moroccan buttermilk as an accompanying beverage, but I tend to skip that.

This recipe is based on Melanie's Moroccan family's recipe. You can make it with any meat you like, but she prefers chicken. The veggies here are just a suggestion - you can use whatever is in season. The microwave bit is not strictly traditional, but her family in the US really prefers the convenience of it to the more traditional double-boiler. The main 'technique' in this is that you're cooking the meat and veggies first, and using the broth to make the couscous.

This recipe makes enough for about 4 people at least - adjust quantity of veggies for more or less food.


1 onion, peeled and sliced thin
1-2 small zucchinis, cut into 4 inch chunks
4-5 carrots, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise, core is traditionally removed, cut into 4-6" chunks
2-3 purple turnips (cut into 4-8 chunks, optional, but delicious - I think all Magidows will like this)
2 tomatoes, cut into large slices
1 clove garlic minced or crushed garlic (or to taste)

Other possible veggies/additions:
Summer squash (cut like zucchini)
Winter squash (with skin, cut into 2"x2" squares)
Beets (peeled, cut into small chunks)
Cabbage (cut into large chunks)
Potatoes (or sweet potatoes)
1 whole Anaheim or poblano pepper (optional, but this is super tasty as long as you're ok with spicy, whole) 

Chickpeas (canned, drained)

2-3 tsp powdered ginger
2-3 tsp turmeric
1.5-2 tsp black pepper
1/4 c. flat leaf parsley, minced
1/4 c. cilantro, minced
pinch saffron (optional)

1 whole cut chicken or equivalent pieces (or whatever kind of meat you prefer)

1/2-1 c. dry couscous per person, depending on level of hungriness and whether you're doing the microwave or mix-and-cover method
Butter (optional)


In a thick bottomed, large stock pot (we often use our pressure cooker bottom) on medium heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil, add onion, sautee until transparent, then the garlic, cilantro and parsley. Stir and cook, then add all of the ground spices and salt. Stir and cook briefly, then add tomatoes and heat until they break down and begin to form a sauce. Add the meat, stir until all pieces are coated, then let cook a few minutes. Add 6 cups water, or whatever is needed to cover the meat and veggies and bring to a boil. 

At this stage, depending on the meat you're using, if you're using a pressure cooker, you can put the lid on for the pressure. This would be good if you're using a beef roast of some sort, or if you are in a hurry while cooking chicken, though it is easy to overcook it. Also, hold in mind that you'll be cooking at least 30 more minutes for all of the veggies, so cook the meat accordingly.

Begin adding veggies based on relative hardness, starting with the veggies which require the most cooking first. Keep adding the veggies at the appropriate time to ensure that they will all be properly cooked. This is more of an art than a science and depends on which veggies you chose to use but you want the veggies to be tender enough to cut with the edge of a spoon, so overcooking them isn't a big issue. You can add additional water as needed.

If you want a hot pepper, but the rest of the people eating do not, you can take some of the broth, put it in a small saucepan and boil the pepper in that. 

Taste the broth, and adjust the salt and spice levels. Then carefully pour the broth into a large container or measuring cup (you can use a colander also, but put the veggies back in the pot to keep them warm.) You will be using this broth to cook the couscous.

Mix-and-wait method for couscous
As far as I can tell, all couscous in the US is pre-cooked. This means that if you do not want to do any more work, all you have to do is mix water and couscous in a 1:1 ratio, cover, and wait 5 minutes. Add some butter (optional), and fluff well with a fork.

Microwave method for couscous
Alternatively, you can do a slightly more involved method which will produce fluffier couscous. Mix the couscous with enough broth to just cover it in a microwave safe container with a loose lid. It is easier to add more liquid than it is to add more couscous, so err on the side of too much couscous. Microwave for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. If it seems too dry, add more broth and microwave for 5 more minutes. 10 minutes is the minimum, but you can keep adding liquid and microwaving if it seems too dry or undercooked. You should also check for flavor - add more salt if needed. When the couscous is cooked, add butter to taste (optional) and fluff well with a fork.

Serve the couscous in a large platter, with couscous on the bottom and the veggies and meat arrayed on top. I've seen people crown it with a hot pepper, which looks nice, but you can also put that to one side if you don't want to make it spicy for everyone. Reserve some broth on the side - you'll often find that you want a bit more broth to keep things from being too dry. 

If you're feeling fancy, you can caramelize onions and cook some raisins in the same pan and use as a garnish - this tends to be done with beef more than chicken.


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