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Tunisian-Style Couscous

Couscous is the national dish of Tunisia, although it is also popular in Morocco and Algeria. In all these countries, couscous is the traditional Friday-night Jewish dinner.
Couscous is coarse farina, rolled and rubbed with a little liquid until the grains swell. It used to be common in the development towns of Israel to see North African women sitting in front of their houses, with large metal bowls between their knees. They would be rubbing and rolling the couscous; when it was ready, they would store it for future use. Nowadays, you can buy ready-made couscous, which can be cooked faster.
Couscous is cooked over the steam produced by a delicious stew. The grains are flavored with the steam, and are served along with the liquid. The secret of a good couscous is to use turnips in the cooking liquid.
Couscous is made in a special pot–a couscousier–which can be bought in Middle Eastern shops. If you do not have one, place a vegetable steamer over a heavy saucepan. The great thing about couscous is that it is one huge meal in itself, and doesn't need side dishes or accompaniments. There always seems to be enough even to feed unexpected guests.
The hot sauce harissa is available in small cans from Middle Eastern stores, but if you can't get it, combine 1 teaspoon Tabasco with 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Another favorite couscous ingredient is the spicy sausage known as merguez. A good substitute is Mexican-style chorizo.

ingredients

serves 8
2 cups chick peas
2 tablespoons oil
2 pounds boneless neck or shoulder of lamb, cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 marrow bone
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 small or 2 large turnips, quartered
2 zucchini, sliced
1 cup cubed pumpkin or squash
2 carrots, split lengthwise
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon harissa (see recipe introduction)
2 quarts water

method

1. Soak the chick peas overnight in water to cover. Drain and rinse. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat and brown the meat and onion until the meat is colored and the onion is transparent.

2. Add the marrow bone and drained chick peas. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until meat is tender, about 2 hours.

3. While meat cooks, prepare vegetables and couscous. Put the vegetables and spices into the bottom half of a steamer or couscous pot and add water.

4. Place over high heat, cover the pot, and while the mixture is coming to a boil, rinse the couscous in cold water.

5. Spread it out on a tray and rub it to separate the grains. Set aside for 10 minutes.

6. Transfer the couscous to the top half of the pot or steamer. Reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and seal the 2 halves together with a strip of damp cheesecloth. Simmer for 30 minutes.

7. Remove the couscous from the pot and transfer it to a tray. Sprinkle it with cold water and run a fork through it to separate the grains.

8. Return it to the pot, cover and seal it, and cook for another 30 minutes.

9. To serve, add the meat and chick peas to the vegetable stew; stir to blend well.

10. Pile the couscous in a mound on a large dish. Arrange some of the stew around and on top of the couscous. Pour on just enough broth to be absorbed by the couscous.

11. Serve remaining broth and stew on the side, with extra harissa for those who like even more spicy couscous.

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