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Couscous is one of the national dishes of Morocco however, it’s a dish that I rarely make. This is not because I don’t love it (because I do!) It does take some time to make the couscous and it also takes a little practice to get the flavors right. I have been told that you can use the instant couscous that is much like minute rice, BUT I really don’t think it tastes the same. If it’s your first time making couscous this might not be the best time to have 20 guests over for a dinner party and serve this, as even with a good recipe (like the one I’m going to share!) the first attempt is a bit of trial and error especially when it comes to the steaming process.
You will need a couscousiere (French for a couscous cooking pot). You may be able to get away with a steamer insert if the holes are small. Although I will list the vegetables that I used, the good part about this dish is really any vegetable or combination of vegetables will work. It’s a great dish to clear out the vegetable drawers.
2c dry couscous
Topping for couscous
3 tsp olive oil 2-3 chicken breasts or 1 lb any other cut of chicken
2 potatoes peeled and quartered
1/2 lb green peas shelled
1/2 lb carrots peeled and halved
3 zucchini’s peeled and halved
1 onion peeled and cut into 1/8ths
(some other vegetables that could be used; sweet potatoes, fresh fava beans, chickpeas, cabbage, okra, eggplant, parsnips, rutabega, peppers)
bouquet garni of 2/3 italian parsley to 1/3 cilantro
3 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper (1 1/2 tsp black pepper)
2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp garlic
5 threads of saffron
1/2 tsp tumeric
To prepare couscous;
In a large bowl pour in couscous and cover with water, rolling couscous with your hand to seperate the grains. Add some salt to the water (less than 1/2 teaspoon, just to season the water). Allow to soak while preparing the topping for the bottom pan.
To prepare topping;
Peel and cut all vegetables. Separate vegetables by cooking time. (i.e potatoes will take longer to cook than green peas). In the bottom of the couscousiere add the chicken and the vegetables that will take the longest to cook, potatoes, carrots, and onions. Add 4-5 cups of water, enough to cover the vegetables. Add all of the spices and the bouquet garni. Turn the heat on medium high. Place the top of the couscousiere on the top of the pot and cover. Allow to cook for 20-25 minutes.
After 20 minutes check the couscous, all excess water should be cooked off and the grains should be starting to feel soft. Remove the top of the pot and pour into a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix water and salt to make a salt water spritz. Using your hand spritz the couscous with the saltwater. *the couscous will be very hot but the grains need to be separated* Use your hand and carefully roll the couscous to separate the grains as much as possible. You can continue to spritz the couscous during this process. Once complete place back in the top of the couscousiere and back onto the heat, cover and allow 20 more minutes of steaming.
Once the couscous is removed after the second steaming add the quicker cooking vegetables to the bottom of the couscousiere (peas, zucchini, etc). Check the water and add more if levels are low. There should be sauce left at the end. Spritz the couscous again after the second steaming, this time add smen while separating the grains. (If you do not have smen you could use olive oil or regular butter or you do not have to add anything). Steam the couscous for the final 20 minutes.
In a large serving dish, pour out the couscous and make a well in the middle of the couscous. Using a slotted spoon remove the meat from the couscousiere and place into the well of couscous. Next remove the vegetables and arrange around the couscous. Remove and throw out the bouquet garni. Once all of the vegetables have been removed, pour half of the remaining sauce on the meat and couscous and the other half in a dish for serving with the meal.
Couscous is traditionally eaten family style using the hands or eaten with spoons. However it can be served onto individual plates. The extra sauce is served on the side with guests taking additional sauce as desired.