Remember when couscous became a thing?
I think it was the mid-1990s, when Near East started putting boxes of the stuff on your store shelves and you could make it in 5 minutes. It was an easy way to get some weeknight carbs, a parents’ dream in a one-pot meal, and it was even, dare I say, exotic.
I loved that stuff. My family would eat it a couple of times a month. I’d keep boxes in the pantry for meals when I was cooking for myself. Pine nuts, seasoning packet, tiny semolina grains, 5 minutes, good to go.
In 1998, I was fortunate to go on a school trip to Spain, a trip that included an optional one-day excursion to Morocco for $80, and heck yeah I was doing that. We had lunch in the city of Tetouan, in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sitting on the floor and having couscous.
It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was light, flavorful, even decadent.
I don’t think I ever ate another box of instant couscous again. I knew what I had available to me in the states was not even comparable to what I had in Morocco.
For some reason, it never occurred to me to try to learn how to make a better couscous, until I got up to Algeria in the Nation Plates project. That’s when I started to learn about this fascinating dish: It’s gently steamed to cook, water and oil mixed in with the couscous before put over a hot pot. And then it’s steamed again. And again.
It seemed challenging, and it took some improvisation – particularly in finding a receptacle to steam fine-grain couscous. I used a strainer, which was imperfect but sufficient.
Recipe sourced from Halal Home Cooking, with some edits.
Lamb Merguez Couscous
- 2 Tb olive oil
- 1 # merguez sausage
- 1 1/2 medium onions, finely chopped or grated
- 1 ts Ras El Hanout
- 1 ts ground cumin
- 1 ts ground coriander
- 3/4 ts fine salt
- 1/2 ts ground cinnamon
- 1/4 ts ground black pepper
- dash of harissa paste, or to taste
- 4 1/4 cups water
- 2 carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
- 2 celery stalks, washed, trimmed and sliced
- 1/2 # fine couscous
- 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil, divided plus more for greasing steaming basket
- 1 2/3 cups water, divided
- 1 Tb unsalted butter
- Over medium heat, warm oil in your cookware. Add merguez and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, leaving fat in the pan.
- Reduce heat to medium low, adding the onion and caramelizing, stirring often.
- Return the meat to the pot, along with the spices, stirring to incorporate. Add water, and increase heat to medium-high, bringing to a boil.
- Simmer for 40 minutes.
- Add vegetables, and simmer for another 20 minutes.
- In a large bowl, add the couscous and stir in 1/2 Tb of olive oil, mixing to coat the grain evenly. Add in 1/4 cup of water, and mix to coat.
- Grease the inside of a fine-mesh strainer and pour in the couscous. Place in the pot, suspended above the cooking liquid, and cover, steaming for 10 minutes.
- Remove the strainer, and pour the couscous back in the bowl. Separate the grains, add a pinch of salt, a 1/2 cup of water, and return to the strainer, putting it back in the pot for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the strainer, pour back into the bowl, separate the grains and add 3/4 cup of water. Stir in the remaining oil and butter. Steam for another 10 minutes.
- Serve the couscous on a large platter, then add the meat mixture on top.