So the results are in! Thanks to everyone who voted, it was really lovely to see that people actually read my blog and do actually want to see more posts! Exciting stuff.
So, the winning recipe was indeed (as you can tell by the title) the Moroccan Style Vegetable Couscous! Here we go.
So first, let’s talk about couscous. It’s an extremely versatile wholegrain that’s native to North Africa. It’s widely used in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria (as illustrated on my map of couscous country) and to a lesser extent in Egypt. It was first cultivated by the Berbers in Ancient Times, a people with a ridiculously rich culture who settled in pre-Arab North Africa. Today, the Berbers are a fragmented society, many of their people are migrant workers who have gone to France or Spain to seek agricultural employment. But they still enjoy their couscous!
And so they should; it’s an excellent source of thiamin (Vitamin B1; helps the body process carbohydrates into energy) and iron, as well as being a good source (6g/100g) of protein. It’s a very bland grain, which makes it great to learn to cook with, as you can experiment with different spices and flavour profiles.
It’s also super quick and super easy to prepare. Couscous is made from semolina (coarse durum wheat – also made into pasta) which is moistened and coated with flour then cooked in a “couscoussier“. When you buy it in a supermarket, what you are really getting is an ‘instant’ variety – that has been pre cooked and all you have to do is add boiling water and allow to sit for 5 minutes (amazing!) It’s also very cheap and widely available in supermarkets. Make sure you buy the dried kind and not the pre-flavoured hydrated kind.
So what makes this Moroccan flavour? Dishes from this region are about big flavour and interesting spice combinations. With this recipe, I’d like to encourage you to come up with your own spice blends – but there’s a
few possibilities you might already have in the house are things like turmeric (amazing yellow colour, mild flavour) cumin (some people can’t stand this as a raw spice but I love the aromatic flavour cooked or not) cinnamon (not just for hot chocolate) saffron (madly expensive in the UK but more affordable at Middle Eastern supermarkets) bay leaves and fresh coriander. Adding sweet things to savoury dishes, such as dried apricots, is also a fantastic addition. Also, by adding fruit you are adding vitamin C to this dish, it improves your body’s ability to absorb iron if consumed in the same meal (so the iron in couscous + fruit in vitamin C = better iron absorption!)
Another important point about making couscous taste exciting is using a good stock. I could write for ages about what it takes to make a good stock, but for this couscous an Oxo cube and some boiling water is absolutely fine.
- Dried couscous
- 1 Vegetable stock cube
- Boiling water
- Butternut squash
- Fresh chilli
- Onion and garlic (these are essential)
- Fresh coriander (stalks and leaves)
- Chilli powder
- Dried apricots
- Raisins (golden raisins are great)
- Pistachio nuts
- Lemon juice
- Lime zest
- First preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F - Gas Mark 6.
- Then, prepare your vegetables for roasting. Chop up everything into equal size pieces and then spread on to a baking tray. Either drizzle with olive oil, or use an oil spray (I use FryLight) to cover the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and perhaps cumin if you want to avoid the raw taste later. Shake the vegetables around on the tray to ensure everything is coated evenly.
- Put the vegetables into the oven for about 30 minutes, but you may want to check on them occasionally and give them a stir around on the tray. You know they are done when they start to char very slightly around the edges and become tender.
- Whilst the vegetables are cooling slightly (however, if you are serving this warm you might like to leave them in the oven with the heat turned off so they don't go cold), you can prepare the couscous. I do this straight into a tupperware to minimise on mess. Follow the directions on the packet regarding serving size and the amount of boiling water required.
- Dissolve the the stock cube in the water and pour it over the couscous, cover with a clean tea towel and leave it alone for 5 minutes. In this time you can prepare any dried fruit or fresh herbs you are going to use.
- After 5 minutes, use a fork (this is important for it to be fluffy) to separate the grains. Taste it to see if it is cooked - you may need to add a little more hot water if it is too al dente.
- Then add your spices and herbs, the vegetables and stir. Continually taste the dish to make sure it is to your liking.
- Add a drizzle of lemon juice and then either serve warm, or allow to chill in the fridge - this allows the flavours to enhance and develop.
- If you are using raisins, you could add them in with the stock so that they have a chance to rehydrate and take on some of the flavours.
- Make sure you read the packet carefully to check how much water to add and how much couscous to use.
- Try adding half a teaspoon of your chosen spices at a time, then tasting to see what you think and whether you need more (or to not add any next time!)
If you’ve got any questions or would like some more specific instructions on what spices to choose please get in touch! You can leave a comment or find my contact form.
PS. I couldn’t leave without showing you this – a graph to show the results of my poll!