BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE! How about a trip to Morocco?
The holidays are over, the huge feasts fit for a Who have dwindled to leftovers, the tree is out on the sidewalk (or it is supposed to be, as we yell at Clem to get rid of it as we madly continue to sweep up the needles), the ornaments or the Menorah wrapped up in tissue paper, safely tucked away until next year. We sit contentedly on the living room sofa, our tummies full, our feet up, our esprit in a satisfied, Zen-like state. The family has left (which may have contributed to our mindset!) and the gifts received put away (or packed up ready to return or exchange).
But winter is still raging outside, icy cold and grey. Though we are warm inside and happy with the moment, we also feel like we’ve eaten like pigs, gained 10 pounds and have thrown any notion of healthful eating or diet out in the snow. With a return to work or school quickly approaching, we need to think about getting our bodies back on track. No way can we show up at the office in baggy sweats and socks, but it feels like that it is now the only thing in our closet that we can still pull on. But we still look forward to a good hot meal, something that will warm us from the inside out and keep us buffered against the winter cold. As the French say : “Ca cale”, It fills you up, helps you get through until the next meal.
Winter is upon us and I am in the mood for Couscous – it is the perfect meal for the season, hearty and hot, infused with the warmth and colors of Morocco, as spicy as you like, full of vegetable goodness. JP learned to make this in the home kitchens of Rabat where he lived for 2 years following college. I learned to love it in the many fabulous North African restaurants dotting almost every city in France. I imagine that it is the least caloric of the filling one-pot meals that can be made, a combination of carrots, zucchinis, pumpkin and chickpeas in tomato-spiked broth, with grilled meat if you like and raisins and fresh coriander, cumin, ground coriander and turmeric to kick it up. Served simply on a bed of buttery couscous, a semolina grain in granules made from crushed durum wheat.
This is a feel-as-you-go kind of recipe, quantities as well as ingredients depend on how many are eating and on what you like. I make it with the traditional lamb and chicken (though only lamb tonight) and vegetables, though when JP makes it he throws in a quartered turnip or two as that is often found in traditional couscous, too. I also make enough to be reheated for another meal or two as it does get better with time and it allows me to serve a hot meal without having to make another one so soon after the first!
Meat for grilling, lamb chops and/or chicken pieces (maybe 2 lamb tiny lamb chops and a chicken leg or thigh per person, though I add an extra piece of chicken for Simon who doesn’t eat the lamb) *
2 – 3 zucchini
2 – 3 carrots, depending on size
Large hunk of pumpkin
1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube
1 can (about 14 oz, 400 g) crushed or chopped tomatoes
1 can (about 14 oz, 400 g) chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
Handful of raisins
1 heaping tsp ground cumin
1 heaping tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
Salt & pepper
Handful of chopped fresh coriander
Lemon if you like
* I used to make merguez as well, a delicious, spicy North African lamb or lamb and beef sausage traditionally served with couscous. We get it when we eat couscous in a restaurant, but I stopped making it at home because I hate the splattered grease.
Prepare the vegetables:
Slice the onion in 8 parts; I cut it in half, then each half in 4.
Peel and trim ends off of carrots, then slice the carrots into 3 or 4 lengths, then each length into sticks. Wash and trim the ends off the zucchini then cut into inch-wide coins.
Clean the pumpkin, cut off the rind and cut into large chunks.
Rinse and drain the chickpeas and set aside. Place the raisins in a small bowl and add enough hot water to just cover and set aside.
Heat a large, deep dutch oven or pot, then add the meat in a single layer (do this in 2 or 3 batches to avoid overcrowding) and brown on one side. Then flip each piece and brown on the other side. Remove the pieces of meat as they brown to a plate and continue until all the meat has been browned. I do this without adding grease to the pan, as the lamb and chicken releases enough fat to keep the meat from sticking to the pot. I have also read that some people grill the meat in a separate pan than the one used to make the dish, but I love the extra flavor added to the couscous by having browned the meat in the same pot.
Once all the meat has been grilled, sautéed or browned (as you like), return it all to the pot. Add all the cut vegetables, the bouillon cube, the can of crushed tomatoes, the spices, salt and pepper generously and then add enough water to just cover everything.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, partially cover the pot and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes.
At the end of this first 45-minute cooking period, add the rinsed and drained chickpeas, the raisins (either drained or with the soaking water, it doesn’t matter). You can taste and add more of any of the spices if you so desire. Add more water if you think too much has evaporated – you don’t want this swimming and watery, but you are making a wonderful sauce, almost like a vegetable soup to be soaked up by the couscous grains. Again, partially cover the pot and allow to continue cooking at the simmer for another 45 minutes.
When the cooking time is over, taste once again, adjust the seasonings, add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like that, and throw in a handful or two of chopped fresh coriander. Remove from the heat, keeping covered until ready to serve.
Prepare the couscous grains according to package directions. Once the water (with salt and either olive oil or butter added) comes to a boil, remove from the heat, pour in an equal amount of the grain, stir to moisten and cover tightly. Allow to sit for 7 minutes then uncover, add more oil or butter and quickly but delicately stir up and loosen the grains with a fork or a wooden spoon.
Serve. Place a mound of the semolina on a plate or in a soup plate, ladle on a healthy portion of the vegetables, some meat, pour on some sauce and garnish with more chopped fresh coriander and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon if you please.