Sunday, April 29, 2007

Moroccan Couscous, and some thoughts on eating

For those of you generous enough to spend some of your time reading this blog, you know what I'm talking about. I mean, those of us who love to think about food, love to cook, and who find the scent of fresh herbs and spices thrilling, all share a common denominator. It's a sensory gene, I guess. One that finds some basic comfort and meaning in the preparation of food, as well as the pleasure of eating it - either alone or with others. (Preferably with others.) It is something that we all share - no matter what country we come from, no matter what the color of our skin is, or whether or not we believe in a God, many gods, or no God. Food is one of our common links.

I've been thinking about this subject for years. It's endlessly fascinating to me that all of us, regardless of where on this planet we may live, must find a way to feed ourselves and our families, and we do it in such diverse and interesting ways. In the U.S. and Europe, we generally eat with knife and fork. In other places, they eat with two sticks of wood. And in still other places, they rip apart bread and pick food up with it, making everything they eat either a "dip" or a "wrap". In the U.S., a hamburger, french fries and a coke is practically a national symbol. In India, a hamburger would be a sacrilege. Unthinkable.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had come back from India changed. I also said that I wasn't trying for sainthood, but rather attempting some sort of balance. My dilemma isn't about how to prepare chicken. Or fish. It's how to make a vegetarian meal that is substantial enough to be satisfying, and simple enough so that the idea of doing it appeals to this working woman. Tasty isn't a problem. I can make anything taste good.

So working within those parameters, I turned once again to Claudia Roden's recipe for Moroccan Couscous. It seems that I'm not alone this time. Ann, over at A Chicken In Every Granny Cart seems to be on the same page. But while she opted for the authentic approach, I went for the "down and dirty". Someday I will cook this grain in a more traditional way, using a colander (absent a couscousiere). But in the meantime, I used about a cup of couscous, poured boiling water over it slowly, watching for signs that it was swelling. When the grains began to swell, I made sure there was a little extra water in the pot and then I covered it, letting the steam do the rest.

Meanwhile, I added the following, mostly following Roden's recipe, but using no meat, and altering the rest of it to suit my whim:

2 1/2 TBS olive oil
6 pearl onions, halved
1/2 onion, chopped
1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 turnip, peeled and cubed
about 8 "baby" carrots, halved
large handful of dried, unsulphured apricots, chopped
1 tomato, skinned and chopped
about 2/3 cup green beans, halved.
about 1/2 cup chopped parsley
dash of ground ginger
healthy dash of cinnamon
healthy dash of Hungarian paprika
red chili powder to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat oil in pan and add the onions, turnips, carrots and stir. Add spices and continue stirring. Add a small amount of water, salt and pepper, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes. Add the tomatoes, string beans, chickpeas and apricots. Stir and cover for about 10-15 minutes, or until the last ingredients are cooked. Add the couscous, stir and adjust the seasonings.
If I made this again, I'd consider adding some sliced almonds to it. However, I served this with the stuffed eggplant dish I wrote about in my last post, and the pine nuts were sufficient.

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Anonymous said...

oh Toni, that looks good. it's funny you mention almonds. I'm not a huge fan of them at all, but that's exactly what I said our couscous was missing too. Yesterday I walked by a man on the street selling fresh fava beans, tiny tart plums and green almonds. I was thinking to use them in a barley couscocus next weekend.

Toni said...

Oh yummmm.....I love fava beans. Haven't been to our local farmer's market in a while, what with the traveling I've been doing, but that's where I usually get them. Tiny tart plums? Wow! That will be spectacular! No question about it! A barley couscous? I'm looking forward to it...

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Hooray for Claudia Roden, who inspires all of us to delve more often into the rich cuisines of the Mideast. And what fun to read both your post and Ann's about this dish.

Toni said...

Hi Lydia, Yes, Hooray for Claudia Roden! I was delighted to read Ann's post about this, having just made it myself. So wonderful how the same basic ingredient can be handled in different ways and come out beautifully each time!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Guess who has a box of couscous in the pantry? ;)

Toni said...

Patricia -- You mean, you could be torn away from your baking? LOL!!

Unknown said...

I love couscous and plan to add it back into my diet once I am back from vacation.

I would love to live some place where I could find fava beans, tiny tarm pluns and green almonds on the street.

Toni said...

I understand.......I'm not sure if my farmer's market carries such exotics. I know I can get fava beans in season there, but tiny tart plums? Ahhhhhhh.....

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony!! I love couscous!! That will be very good.

Anonymous said...

Toni! I don't know how I missed a fog. I LOVE, LOVE couscous! This recipe is a must try....and like Patricia - I have couscous calling to me from behind the cabinet door....:)

Toni said...

Candy - Oui, c'est tres, tres bon!

Chris - You didn't miss this! You found it! ;-)

Stella said...

Yums! Love your moroccan couscous, I made something quite similar once & loved it!
You're right, all those reading your blog share one thing that cannot separate us: the love for FOOD. just the name of it unites us!:)

Toni said...

Valentina - Glad you liked the recipe. Couscous is so versatile - you can do just about anything with it and it tastes good!

Anonymous said...

Toni--The couscous looks lovely! I generally like the quick cooking method you describe, but Ann over at A Chicken In Every Granny Cart recently did a post on slow cooking couscous that sounds intriguing too.

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