Moroccan Couscous

Little known fact: couscous originated
with a 5 year old named "Billy"
after playing with his vegetables.
Couscous (which is basically tiny pasta), is often associated with Morocco, but is a staple in North and West Africa, and is eaten in numerous parts of the world. There are different varieties of couscous as well. The most popular variety is Moroccan couscous, who's grains are about the size of cornmeal. But Israel for example, is known for its own variation, which has larger grains, about the size of peppercorns. Lebanese couscous has even larger grains, about the size of small peas. In Morocco, the couscous is steamed, and takes a while to cook. But you can now get quick-cooking couscous, that while it may not compare to the more traditional methods, is still good and a breeze to make.

Although there are traditional ingredients associated with couscous, in the ways of The Recipeless Cook, it is best to think of the couscous as the canvas, upon which you draw a meal. The paint in this case, would be the vegetables (or meat) you add to the canvas. The vegetables can be almost anything you have on hand, that needs to be eaten - though couscous recipes traditionally favour winter vegetables. Couscous also often contains dried fruits, which make a delicious contrast to the vegetables. The basic idea behind a couscous meal is simple. Cook the vegetables, as you would a stew (preferably in a stock, in order to have some sauce at the end), then cook the couscous separately, then marry the two together.

In true Recipeless fashion, I've refrained from listing quantities of things, so that you decide what and how much to use, and make it your own. Consider about a quantity of one for each vegetable, and you might try including 3 - 6 different vegetables. (If you've made too much, you can always freeze them, and use them another day for another couscous). The vegetables should be cut chunky size (for taste and tradition), but they can also be halved, and cut in long (ie. 3") lengths.


Vegetable Suggestions: Potato, sweet potato, rutabaga, pumpkin, onion, zucchini, bell peppers, carrot, celery, green beans (cut), squash, yams, bitter melon, etc.

Legume Suggestions: Chick peas, fava beans, kidney beans (large), black beans

Meat Suggestions: Beef, chicken, lamb

Spice suggestions: Cumin, ginger (powder or fresh), fresh garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, cinammon, nutmeg, salt, harissa (sparingly! the stuff is hot!)

Fruit & Nut suggestions: Pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, raisins, dates, dried apricot, dried fig, lemon slices


Simple instructions:

Cook the vegetables (and fruit if using) in chicken, beef or vegetable stock, until fork tender. Cook legumes (if using) and add to vegetables. Cook couscous. Pour vegetables/fruit/legumes over a plate of couscous.

Detailed instructions:


In a sauce pan, pour in one part couscous with one equal part of water. (Optionally: Add 1/2t salt. You can also substitute stock for the water, or otherwise flavor the water). Bring to a boil. When it begins to boil, turn off the heat. Cover and let the couscous sit for about 5-15 minutes. Remove lid, fluff the couscous with a fork. The grains should be light and fluffy.

Conventional pot:

Sauté the aromatic vegetables (ie. onion, garlic, bell peppers) in olive oil for a few minutes. Add the harder vegetables (ie. carrots, celery, potatoes, etc) or meat, and add the water (or flavored stock) and spices, if using. Add the legumes (beans), if using, a little after this (as they should already be precooked). Simmer covered for a few minutes until the vegetables (and/or meat) are fork tender. (The beans should be soft, but not falling apart). Plate the couscous and pour the vegetable mixture over top.

Pressure cooker:

In the pressure cooker, add the vegetables, spices, meat, oil (everything but the couscous), and about 2 cups of water. (Alternatively: First lightly brown the onions and garlic in the olive oil, with the lid of the pressure cooker off. Then add the rest of the ingredients to the cooker). Close and lock the lid. Bring cooker up to pressure on high heat, reduce heat just enough to maintain pressure (low or med low) and pressure cook for 3 minutes. Pour your couscous mixture (ie. beans and vegetables) over the couscous and serve hot.

Alternatively: You can cook the couscous in the pressure cooker, and save on clean up. Once the couscous mixture is done, depressurize the cooker, add the uncooked couscous, stir, replace the lid, lock it and cook for another 3 minutes. Then depressurize the pot again, check the couscous for seasoning. (You can add butter, olive oil or harissa at this point, if you wish). Be careful about the timing, because it's very easy to overcook the couscous with this method. (If the couscous does become too soft and gummy, let the whole couscous dish dry out a bit on low heat, with the cooker uncovered).


Paul Rennix said...

so are the above instructions for traditional or quick cooking? I assume quick?

The Recipeless Cook said...

Yes, the instructions refer to quick couscous, which is the variety most commonly available in supermarkets. Traditional couscous is steamed, in a special vessel for steaming.

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