Relatively few ethnic dishes make their way into France, since they consider their own dishes to be the ne plus ultra of cuisines. But the North African dish called couscous is an exception. Anywhere there is an outdoor market with big, steaming wok’s of take-out dishes, there will be paella--another import--and there will be couscous.
Couscous is one of those wonderful slow-cooked stews with many meats plus an abundance of spices, vegetables, and saveurs. The French adore it. It is served over what they call grains de couscous or semolina. Nearly every every country bordering the Mediterranean has their own version.
Our Moroccan born neighbor, Marc, invited us over for a couscous. We were very honored, as this is a meal that, made the traditional way, will be quite the endeavor. Nicole and Pierre, who both lived in Morocco when they were younger, were invited as well.
Marc and his Parisian wife, Janine, spent a couple of days preparing the meal. Couscous varies slightly by country and culture, but in Morocco it’s made with chicken, beef and lamb, which are each cooked separately in a bouillon. Vegetables are added, typically carrots, zucchini, and turnips. There is a rich spice blend to flavor it all.
But what goes under and on top of this rich stew is just as important as the complex flavors within it. At dinner, Marc opened a hot tagine to reveal steaming grains de couscous, which he cooks twice, first with olive oil, then with butter. We ladled the rich stew over it, then the toppings were passed: raisins, chickpeas, a spicy hot piment, dates, and a special dish: caramelized onions, slow cooked in lamb fat with raisins, almonds, and walnuts. PHOTO: Our chefs du jour.
After dinner there were Moroccan pastries and mint tea, and for a French flourish Janine made her famous baba au rhum (see this previous post).
Now I would not attempt Marc’s recipe, being much too lazy, so I’ve searched out some quicker versions. It's the perfect dish for chilly weather when you’re dreaming of travel.
Most of the recipes I looked at use just one kind of meat. Many versions added butternut squash, which is a fine idea. Some topped it with yougurt, some with cilantro; other choices were prunes, pistachios, and cashews. Like a good curry dish, you can take your pick of a variety of savory condiments that jazz it up.
If you make it, you might try one of these recipes:
The Candid Cook’s recipe seemed the closest to Marc’s, though it was short on veggies, which you could add.
Fine cooking has an exotic version with with green olives and preserved lemons.
Jamie oliver uses beef instead of lamb in his couscous.
In the COMMENTS: Apolgies are due today. I just discovered that many legitimate comments have been disappearing into a mystery spam folder--grrr! This is the fault of Typepad (they host this blog), and they are working to correct it. If you wrote a comment that was never posted, that’s what happened. My apologies and I am now able to access this spam folder, so it should not happen again, en principe.
Recommended Blogs: Our reader "Vagabonde" has a great travel blog you'll want to check out, called Recollections of a Vagabonde. A Parisian living in Atlanta, she's traveled to 58 countries. This week she takes an amazing train ride.
Cooking Tip! I recently stocked a kitchen for a friend and I happened across a restaurant supply place on-line called KaTom. Great prices and they have most everything you can think of. Nice customer service, too. Check them out if you need some kitchen tools.