Couscous, a savory dish made with tiny pasta like grains originating in North Africa, has now become a popular side dish throughout much of the world. Here in America, you can usually find boxes of instant couscous on the shelves at most local grocery stores. It can be simply prepared in a pot of water with a little oil and be on the table in five minutes.
The easy recipe that I am sharing with you is more flavorful than the recipe that appears on the box and takes a little longer to prepare but it is worth it. The couscous is steamed in a savory spiced chicken stock, then fluffed with cooked vegetables, chick peas, raisins and almonds…delicious alone or topped with a stew of vegetables, chicken or meat. I served this couscous topped with a Moroccan lamb stew (recipe to be shared soon).
If you serve the couscous as a side dish with a simple rotisserie chicken, you might want to enhance the flavors by adding additional spices such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, paprika or a little harissa if you want something spicy. You could also add figs, apricots, olives, or preserved lemons to the couscous.
The recipe can easily be made into a vegetarian meal by simply replacing the chicken stock with a vegetable broth, the butter with olive oil and adding additional vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, turnip or eggplant. As you can see, it is a very versatile dish that can be adapted to the meal you are serving.
Vegetable Couscous With Chick Peas, Raisins And Almonds
Serves 4 to 6
- 4 c. chicken stock (vegetable broth may be substituted)
- a pinch of saffron, crumbled (if saffron is not available, a 1/4 tsp. of turmeric can be used to give the couscous a nice color)
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil, more as needed
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 c. butternut squash, cubed
- 2 c. yellow or green zucchini
- 1/2 c. chopped onion
- 1 8 oz. can chickpeas, drained
- 1 10 oz. box plain couscous (I used Near East)
- 1/4 c. golden raisins (plumped in 1 Tbsp. water)
- 1/4 c. toasted sliced almonds
- a sprig or two of fresh mint, chopped for garnish (optional)
In a medium pot, bring the chicken stock, saffron, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper, oil and butter to a boil. Reduce heat, add the butternut squash and simmer until almost tender. Add the onion, zucchini, and chickpeas and simmer until all the vegetables are tender. Remove the vegetables with a strainer and place in a bowl. Measure out two cups of stock, reserve the remaining stock for later. Place the two cups of stock back into the pot, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary then bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit covered for 10 minutes until all the stock has been absorbed.
Take a fork and scrape the couscous onto a large baking pan, breaking up any clumps. When the couscous is cool enough to handle, fluff (I like to use my hands as you can separate the grains better). Add the reserved vegetables, raisins, and almonds then mix and fluff the couscous once more. Moisten the couscous with up to a cup of the reserved stock. To serve, heap the couscous onto a platter or into large bowl and garnish with the chopped mint.
Bring to the table and serve with any remaining stock alongside the couscous. If serving with a stew, you can create a hole in the center of the couscous and place some of the meat and vegetables in the middle and serve the remainder of the stew on the side with additional accompaniments such as harissa, dried fruits or nuts.
While this recipe for couscous takes more than five minutes compared to the recipe on a box of instant couscous, the flavor is definitely worth the extra time. If you would like another easy couscous recipe to serve as a side dish, you might want to try my recipe for couscous with dried fruits, raisins and pistachios.
Tell me dear readers, do you have a box of couscous in your pantry and what is your favorite way of preparing it? If not, you should buy a box of instant couscous and try it soon. You will then find out why it is such a versatile and popular side dish.