I’ve been on a world cuisines kick lately, trekking the globe through food and learning the origin of dishes. This week, my culinary journey took me to North Africa: I prepared a brightly colored, spice-laden Moroccan couscous (koos-koos) side dish, Couscous Marrakech.
First, let’s talk couscous. While it looks like a very small round grain, couscous is actually semolina flour — the same stuff pasta is made from — that has been sprinkled with water and rolled into small pellets by hand, then sprinkled with a bit of flour to keep the pellets from sticking together. It is typically steamed with hot liquid, and when cooked through it is fluffed to separate the semolina pellets. In most grocery stores in the West, couscous can be found pre-steamed and dried so it will take just minutes to cook.
Typically, couscous is sold in two forms: The minuscule version is called Moroccan couscous and the larger version (usually a third the size of a pea) is the Israeli type. The former cooks much faster than the latter and is easier to find in the grocery store. And since I was making Couscous Marrakech, I obviously opted for the Moroccan variety.
Couscous is a staple of North African countries Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. In these countries it is served either as a side dish, with meat and vegetable main dishes — either plain or laced with herbs, spices, dried fruits, and nuts — or as a dessert very similar to rice pudding.
In the recipe below, I used aromatic herbs and spices often seen in Moroccan dishes — cinnamon, coriander and ginger — to add a burst of flavor, honey and citrus to lend some sweetness, and turmeric to impart a bright yellow hue. Couscous Marrakech is an approachable, aromatic dish which takes less than 20 minutes from start to finish and can be served immediately or the next day, reheated or at room temperature.
Adapted from a recipe via WholeFoodsMarket.com
1 cup water
3 dried Turkish or Black Mission figs, diced
3 dried apricots, diced
3/4 cups Moroccan couscous (not Israeli)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons olive oil
A pinch of salt and pepper
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1 tablespoon mint leaves, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup orange juice
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper, to taste
Put the water in a small sauce pot and add the figs and apricots. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the couscous in a medium-sized, heat-resistant bowl bowl and add the turmeric, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix the couscous until it is coated with the spices and olive oil. After the water comes to a boil, remove dried fruits and set them aside. Pour the hot water over the couscous and cover the bowl tightly with a lid or plastic wrap, allowing it to steam for 15-20 minutes, or until all or most of the liquid has been absorbed. It will also continue to absorb the liquid it as the dish cools down.
While couscous is steaming, prepare dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, orange juice, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, honey, salt and pepper until combined.
When couscous has steamed and the granules are soft, fluff it a fork to separate the grains. Add the dried fruits, scallions, nuts and mint, the dressing on top. Gently mix everything together until all ingredients are combined. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
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