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Monday, June 17, 2013

Vegan Moroccan Style Couscous

One of the dishes we discovered and came to love in Paris was Moroccan Couscous.  There is an important North African community in France and when different cultures  share their way of life and food, we all get to benefit from the introduction to different flavours and cooking techniques. 

As I continue to try to develop vegan dishes for Sarah, this came to mind.  The way Moroccan couscous is served is practical if you are entertaining vegans/vegetarians because all the components are served separately and the combination of ingredients is up to the individual preferences of the diner.  The base is a rich vegetable stew infused with wonderful spices.  It is always served with a choice of meats such as grilled merguez sausage, braised lamb or mutton and chicken.  You can then choose to garnish it with chick peas, olives, harissa, raisins, almonds, etc.  Everything is served over a bed of fluffy couscous.  

As I looked at recipes on the internet, the combination of spices used for couscous varied greatly and I finally decided to go with Ras el hanout which means ''head of the shop'' and is a blend of a merchant's best available spices.  It usually includes cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground chilli pepper, coriander, cumin, peppercorn, paprika, fenugreek and turmeric with other spices added according to regional preferences.

It turns out that this recipe was a huge hit for both the vegan in our family and the meat eaters (I made it with lamb merguez).  It will now be regular dish in our menu because it is so versatile and easy to make (and it smells great).

You can use any combination of vegetables you like and have on hand - they just need to be added according to their individual cooking time so that you end up with tender but whole vegetable pieces that are not overcooked.

You will need:  Serves 4 generously

  • 2 tbsp (15ml) of olive oil
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut in quarters and separated in pieces
  • 1 medium leek, white part only, first layer removed and cut in 1/2'' disks (1.5cm)
  • 2 tbsp of Ras el hanout
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • 7 cups of water
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch pieces (1.5cm)
  • 1/2 medium turnip, peeled and cut in cubes
  • 1/2 medium fennel, cut in half, center core removed and cut in even pieces
  • about 1 cup of butternut squash, peeled and cut in cubes
  • 3 small potatoes, washed and cut in cubes (cut them only when ready to add to broth to avoid browning)
  • about 1 cup of cauliflower florets
  • 1 medium zucchini, washed, sliced in half and cut in 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup of corn starch mixed with 1/4 cup of water to thicken the broth
  • Salt 
  • 2 cups medium couscous with large pinch of salt
  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • olive oil
  • Merguez sausage, cooked on the grill (optional)
Garnish:  Your choice of canned chic peas (well rinsed), olives, almonds, harrissa, raisins, pine nuts, etc.

  1. Put the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the red onion pieces (1/2 large) and sliced leeks (1 medium).  Cook for 3 minutes (no colour) to soften;
  2. Add the Ras el hanout (2 tbsp) and paprika (1 tbsp) and cook for one minute release the flavour;
  3. Add 7 cups of water and stir to dissolve and distribute the spices;
  4. Bring the broth to a gentle boil and begin to add the vegetables in order of cooking time;  carrots, fennel and turnips and cook for 5 minutes once water has returned to a gentle boil;
  5. Add the butternut squash and potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes;
  6. Add the cauliflower florets and zucchini pieces and cook until all the vegetables are tender.
  7. There should be a generous amount of broth in the pot with all vegetables well covered.  You can add more water if needed;
  8. Dilute the cornstarch (1/4 cup) in the water (1/4 cup - 80ml) and add to the broth to thicken - it should not be too thick and have the consistency of a soup.  There should also be a good quantity of liquid to spoon over the vegetables, meat and couscous (it will be absorbed by the couscous and add great flavour);
  9. Generously salt to taste;
  10. Set aside and keep warm;
  11. Put the couscous (2 cups) in a deep bowl with a generous pinch of salt.  Pour boiling water (2 cups) over it and cover to let the grain absorb the liquid.  Let it sit for 10 minutes;
  12. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and use a fork to scrape the couscous to separate it.
  13. Serve the vegetable stew, couscous, merguez and garnishes in large bowls in the center of your table.

Smile of the day:

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