As I mentioned the other day, some variation of this couscous is my go-to dinner when I want to go from no plan to homemade dinner on the table in 15 minutes. This is installation three of “Guy’s Turn” or the less gender dependent title of “Inept-but-Earnest-Cook Night.”
Despite my title, which refers to the traditional Moroccan couscous from Fez, I often do not actually use the lucky seven vegetables and almost never serve this stew with meat. As with some of my salads, I rely on a cheap Kyocera mandoline blade as my workhorse for swift chopping of whatever vegetables I have on hand.
The most bare-bones iteration of this couscous involves the couscous itself and the vegetable stew. If I am feeling like a fancy girl, I make the couscous with toasted almonds, chives, and currents, sometimes adding some homemade harissa and a pat of cultured butter (to imitate Moroccan “smen,” one of my next culinary projects). Also, if I am feeling fancy (read: not lazy or rushed), I will chop some of the vegetables with an actual knife for textural difference (especially if I am dealing with a Cinderella-size pumpkin).
Let’s start with the couscous. If you are going barebones and vegan, all you need is the couscous (I like whole wheat), olive oil, salt, and water. (If not, you could also use chicken broth and/or cultured butter instead). Measure out equal portions of water and couscous. Boil the water, oil, and salt, add your couscous, turn off the heat, and cover for ten minutes before fluffing with a fork. Feeling big for your britches? Toss a handful of either currants (just small raisins, really) or raisins in with the couscous before letting it sit. Meanwhile, toast some slivered almonds and/or sesame seeds, and snip a few chives to add before serving.
For the stew you need a good base of alliums. I had red onion, spring onions from Mariquita Farm, and garlic so that’s what it was. Of course, shallots, green garlic, or any onion you have is just fine. Grab your mandoline blade and slice them up directly into a large frying pan with several tablespoons of olive oil. Fry on medium until they are translucent (circa 4 minutes since they are so thin) and slice up your other vegetables into the pot.
I used purple and green kohlrabi, carrots, whole snap peas, and three canned Roma tomatoes which I just mashed with the back of a fork. Depending on the season, I may use turnips, pumpkin, parsnips, zucchini, fava beans, cabagge, bell peppers, or potatoes as well. This is mindblowingly flexible. Throw in a can of chickpeas and turn it all down low. If you want to be truly Moroccan about it, sweeten it up with a couple of prunes or dates too. Add a half cup of water and prepare your spices while the whole hot mess simmers for 7 or 8 minutes. You can include: toasted and crushed cumin seed, allspice, cinnamon, turmeric, ground or freshly grated ginger, and cayenne or Aleppo pepper (if you do not use harissa sauce when serving).
I finish with a squeeze of lemon and then taste to see if the flavors are balanced to my liking. I also mentioned harissa. This is a spicy Moroccan paste that can be added in small or large quantities to each person’s dish. There are so many variations of how to make harissa, but at its simplest it includes mortar-and-pestled (or just whizzed in the blender) dried spicy chili peppers, garlic, oil, and salt. I made mine this time with olive oil, chili peppers I dried from last summer’s Mariquita farm padron peppers and ras al-hanout (a crazy mix of spices in itself, including rose petals).
Seven Vegetable Moroccan Couscous
1 ½ cups whole wheat or regular couscous
1 ½ cups water
loving pinch of salt
2-3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
handful of currants or raisins (optional)
toasted almonds and/or sesame seeds (optional)
finely snipped chives (I cut them with scissors) (optional)
extra cultured butter (or butter with a little yogurt), if you like
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onions or shallots thinly sliced with mandoline blade
4 cloves garlic, minced or also (carefully!) sliced on the mandoline blade
Choose from the following: carrots, peas, sugar snap peas, fava beans, any pumpkin or squash, zucchini, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, cabbage, etc. Try for at least four, but up to seven, for Fez-style good luck.
2 or 3 Roma tomatoes (fresh or canned) chopped or mashed with a fork
1 can chickpeas
Handful of prunes or dates (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted and ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 teaspoon ground or 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (optional)
1 teaspoon cayenne or Aleppo pepper (if not making the harissa sauce)
1/2 lemon for squeezing
Fresh cilantro and parsley (optional)
salt to taste
about 1/8 cup crushed dried spicy chili peppers
1 clove garlic
Ras al-hanout spice mix (optional)
1/8-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
1.Make the couscous. Boil the 1 1/2 cups water, salt, and butter or olive oil. Take off of the heat, stir in the couscous (and currants, if using), and cover with a lid for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, add a very drops of water, if too dry and cover for another 5 minutes). Add toasted almonds, sesame seeds, and ample snipped chives, if using, right before serving with the vegetables.
2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan to medium-high and saute the sliced onions (or shallots) and garlic for about 4 minutes until translucent. Stir once or twice.
3. Add your choice of the above vegetables. Slice them with a knife if you care about distinguishing the vegetables. If you are pressed for time, do everything with the mandoline, straight into your frying pan. Add the tomatoes, the chickpeas, the spices, prunes or dates (if using), and 1/2-3/4 cup of water. One everything begins to boil, turn down to medium-low for 5 minutes. (This is where I go fluff the couscous with a fork and cover for its last 5 minutes.)
4. Make your quick harissa, if using. Blend all the harissa ingredients together in either a blender, stick blender, or mortar and pestal.
5. Squeeze the lemon into the vegetables, check the seasoning and adjust the salt.
6. Either serve individual plates with a bed of couscous, the vegetable stew, and some fresh cilantro and harissa on top, or serve Moroccan style in a huge platter. Everyone can choose how much cultured butter, harissa, or cilantro they would like on their couscous and vegetable stew.