What is this thing called ‘Couscous’? Who are these people called ‘Berber’? And where in the world is ‘the Maghreb’?
These days, the Maghreb is comprised of a larger portion of northwest Africa, but originally, it referred to only those parts of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco that lie between The Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. It was settled millennia ago by a non-Semitic, Caucasian people known as the Berbers, long before incursions were made by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and others. Berbers continue to make up a significant percentage of the populations of Algeria and Morocco.
Couscous is thought to have originated with the Berbers and today it is one of the principal dishes of the region. ‘Maghribiyya’ is one of a number of alternate names for couscous. Sometimes categorized as a cereal, or grain, it is actually a form of pasta. Semolina wheat is rolled into granules (traditionally done by hand) and then steamed in a special piece of equipment called (surprise!) a couscoussière. Of course there is more to ‘couscous’ than just this. Couscous as an entrée means that it will be served with a big stew, multi-vegetabled by nature, and possibly with meat, fish, or poultry. We now have the convenience of using ‘instant’ couscous which can be prepared simply in a saucepan. I’m fine with the results, although I fully acknowledge that it can’t hold a candle to the couscous to be had in the Latin Quarter of Paris . And I can only imagine the awe that must be inspired by having it in Marrakesh, say, at La Maison Arabe. Nevertheless, here is my version of Seven Vegetable Couscous, which has evolved into Eleven Vegetable Couscous.
The spicy sauce for serving alongside, Harissa, is actually a Tunisian touch.
Recipe: Moroccan Eleven Vegetable Couscous
Heat in a large pot on medium:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cumin seed
Add and stir:
1 or 2 leeks, sliced (dark green tops removed)
1 or 2 shallots, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cinnamon
a few shakes of ground allspice
½ small to medium rutabaga, cut into chunks, about 2×3 inches
3 stalks of celery, cut into 1 ½ in to 2 in pieces
2 lge carrots cut into big chunks
1 c winter squash cubed (1×2 in)
Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, allowing the vegetables to absorb some of the seasonings.
Add and stir:
½ liter veg broth
½ c chopped parsley stems
Stir, cover and cook for a good 20 minutes on medium.
1 very large potato cut into 6 or 8 pieces, or 2 smaller ones, quartered
1 can tomatoes (28 oz), diced
6 to 8 oz green beans, trimmed
another ½ l veg broth, if necessary
Stir, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
1 ½ c chopped peppers, red, green and yellow
1 zuchini, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 c chick peas
½ c parsley, chopped
1/3 c dried currants
1 large clove garlic, minced
Cook for 5 minutes, covered.
Stir in some hot stuff and/or harissa (recipe follows) and serve extra on the side, as well as some
Serve with freshly cooked couscous:
Bring to a boil 2 cups of water, 1 Tbsp olive oil, and freshly ground pepper.
Stir in 1 1/2 cups couscous, cover, and turn off heat. Let sit 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and serve.
Recipe: My Harissa
Toast 1 tbsp caraway seed and 1 tbsp coriander seed very briefly either in a toaster oven at 300 for 3 minutes, or in a hot cast iron skillet on med heat for a few min. Grind with a mortar and pestle, lava stone style if you are blessed with one.
Combine in a food processor along with ¼ c olive oil, ½ jar roasted sweet peppers (12 oz jar), 1 large clove garlic minced, and some hot stuff. I used La Bomba, 1 tbsp.
Makes about ¾ cup.
Bring It On, Spring!