There is only one thing I vow never to do again in my life, and that is to cook "instant" couscous. Never again will I open a cardboard box, pour boiling water over the grains, fluff and serve. I know it's easy, sometimes even half edible, that is if you add a ton of herbs or other ingredients to spice it up with, but compared to the "proper" couscous, it doesn't have a "hope in Hades" of landing on my dinner table again.
The reason I'm so vehement in my distaste for instant couscous is that I've tried the "real stuff". And it's far from being instant. Whilst not labour intensive, it's time consuming to prepare, and you need to be organised in advance. But the final result runs rings around the couscous a la cardboard. Call me a food purist, I'm easy with that. Taste and texture win hands down over convenience I'm afraid.
When I stumbled across a packet of Mougrabieh, or commonly known as giant couscous, in my local health food store, I couldn't get to the counter quick enough, fearful that someone would do a waist high rugby tackle on me, and steal my much coveted treasure.
The secret to perfect couscous is to steam it over a fragrant liquor. The semolina grains of Lebanese Moghrabieh are much larger than Morrocan couscous grains we are familiar with and they swell up to the size of baby peas, so a conventional steamer insert was easily used.
Firstly pour boiling water onto the moghrabieh, add I tablespoon of olive oil, a good pinch of salt and another good pinch of Ras el Hanout. Let sit for 10 minutes, moving the grains around occasionally so they don't stick together. This process removes some of the surface starch.
Add the aromatics to the cooking stock:
1 litre (2 pints) water
1 hot chilli
1 cinnamon stick
10 strands of saffron
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds
2 bay leaves
Place drained couscous in the steamer, cover and steam for 2 hours, until the couscous is soft.
I then added the steamed couscous to this recipe which really satiated my Middle Eastern food cravings. Wonderful dish to serve with grilled meats or a tagine/braise. Just perfect for a cold, rainy autumn evening.
Lebanese couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemon
1 preserved lemon
1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 3/4 cups moghrabieh couscous
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 475°F.
Halve lemons and scoop out flesh, keeping both flesh and peel. Cut enough peel into 1/4-inch dice to measure 1/4 cup. Put lemon flesh in a sieve set over a bowl and press with back of a spoon to extract juice.
Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and salt to taste in a large shallow baking pan and spread in 1 layer. Roast in upper third of oven 15 minutes, or until squash is just tender, and transfer to a large bowl.
Cook onion in 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn golden. Add to squash.
Cook couscous using method outlined above. Add couscous to vegetables and toss with 2 tablespoon oil to coat.
Add lemon peel and juice, parsley, nuts, raisins, ground cinnamon, and salt to taste. Toss to mix well.
Wandering Chopsticks is this weeks host of Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging
After browsing her blog, I think Vietnamese food will fast become one of my favourite cuisines as well.