Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Pride of Morocco: Couscous.

Okay, okay, I know I’ve been majorly MIA lately. And I know that my last post talked aaaall about Morocco’s beautiful scenery, but didn’t include a single photo. I don’t know about you, but I strongly dislike blog posts without pictures. It’s difficult to read so many words without a break. Kinda like the Wall Street Journal

But, fact is, I can’t get a single picture from my trip to upload! I’ve tried, I promise! And I still want to fix that, because they are simply (as I tried to emphasize in the post) blow-your-mind-beautiful. 

So, to make it up to you, I’m offering you the information you’ve all been waiting for. Finally. FINALLY. A recipe for Moroccan couscous. 

I know, for a blog that has healthy servings of recipes (haha. punny.) how could I come to Morocco and not blog/rave about the couscous first thing? I mean, it's Morocco's national dish! A couple of reasons:

1.   1. As a Celiac, I can’t actually eat couscous. Um. Yeah. That throws a wrench in things. In fact, when I first arrived, a previous Fulbrighter remarked: “How are you supposed to make any Moroccan friends if you can’t eat couscous?! The way you make friends here is by going to their house for Friday couscous!
Well, it seems like I’ve done just fine for myself on the friend-making front, but it was much more difficult to explain my Glutard Situation to Moroccans. But I’m used to that. It was even MORE difficult to find gluten-free couscous. But ladies and gents, it was found! In a specialty shop where the rice couscous was billed for diabetics andIwontevenTELLyouhowmuchitcost. But, score!
2.   2. I was a bit busy with…uh…other stuff...than to write about couscous. And more interested in other recipes.

Back in the Land Efficiency and Pragmatism, where our mantra is “Time is Money”, we’re used to 5-minute microwave couscous. Freakin’ 5-minute microwave everything, in fact. But this is simply NOT how Moroccan culture works. Life moves slow here, cooking moves even slower. Cooking is a deliberate, familial, complex, almost religious process (for some, though this is changing in modern times). Women (and indeed, almost exclusively woman) wake up at the crack of dawn to take their bread which has risen overnight to the public oven, so that the family can eat steaming fresh khubz for breakfast…and all day long. But no preservatives are used, so the bread is stale by the next day. Lunch takes all morning to make, sometimes. Dinner is (usually) a lighter meal, or leftovers, giving time for the women to prepare bread for the next day. So the ritual is repeated, day after day.

Couscous is traditionally served every Friday for lunch, as the big family meal after the men go to prayers at the mosque. The women go to market in the morning, then spend the day preparing the food. It is eaten around one communal bowl, everyone with their own spoon (or the old Berber grannies with their hands), and only the foreigners making huge messes of themselves. Then, everyone passes out from the inevitable “couscous hangover”. This, my friends, is why life moves so slow in Morocco. I blame the couscous. Ahem. 

With my Couscous Diabetique in hand, my lovely neighbor Samira volunteered to teach me how to make couscous in a traditional Moroccan steamer. Even her husband remarked that it was “pretty good, for American couscous”. 

AND, Don’t even get me started on making couscous by hand, starting from wheat flour, adding a little water, rolling it between your hands, sifting it, rolling, sifting, repeat, add more water, roll, sift, set out to dry, sift……

Nah. I’ll buy couscous in a package, thanks. It’ll be so worth it, but it will still take some quality time to make this:

Moroccan Lamb Couscous*
For four people, you'll need:

1 lb lean lamb, cubed (NOTE: Any meat can be substituted or omitted, just make sure that you check it for doneness often)
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
pinch saffron threads
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp paprika
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped
½ tsp ground dry ginger
½ lb carrots, quartered lengthways
½ lb small turnips, quartered
½ lb celeriac, cubed
½ lb pumpkin, peeled & cubed
1 lb couscous
2 tsp olive oil or argane oil
4 tomatoes, skinned and quartered
bunch coriander, chopped
bunch parsley, chopped
4 Tbsp butter
1 ½  cups golden raisins
1  ½ cups onions, julienned
¼  cup sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
salt and pepper

First cook the lamb. You can either put it into a pot or (the Moroccan Way), cook all meat and veggies in the bottom of the couscous steamer, so the flavor infuses into the couscous grains. Add 4 cups water or stock, onions, garlic, saffron, cinnamon, paprika, chili, ginger and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, skim and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Add the carrots, turnips, pumpkin and celeriac and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, drizzle the oil over the couscous with 1 ½ cups water, stir and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Add another 1 cup water and separate the grains with a fork. Leave to stand for another 10 minutes. Put into a steamer or sieve over boiling water and steam uncovered for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, coriander and parsley and cook for around 5 minutes until the lamb and vegetables are tender.

In a separate pot, boil the raisins until puffy and soft. Drain off most of the water, leaving just a few tablespoons. Add onions, sugar, and cinnamon and caramelize onions until wilted.

Fork through the couscous to separate the grains and turn onto a large serving plate. Dot with butter and season. Form into a mound with a well in the centre, and, using a slotted spoon, place the lamb and vegetables into the well. Place raisin/onion mixture on top in the center. Pour some cooking liquid over, and eat! Then nap.  


Freebie Alert! In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here’s a little Moroccan-American fusion recipe to get your juices flowing. You can thank me later. 

*Recipe Adapted from Samira’s ancient family recipe and The View From Fez Blog:

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