02 March 2017

“Let's have couscous”

That's what Walt said when I came back from North Carolina. We started gathering together all the necessary ingredients, which required a couple of trips to the supermarket.

Vegetables, especially: turnips, both purple and yellow; rutabagas; onions; garlic; carrots; celery; green beans; bell peppers; zucchini; tomatoes (and tomato paste); chickpeas.

Meats: a turkey leg; three slices of leg of lamb; merguez sausages made with beef and lamb; chicken broth. And (why not?) some chicken meatballs from Ikea.

Spices and herbs: ras el hanout, the North African spice blend; thyme; ground fennel seeds; oregano.

Making the couscous stew/soup is really easy. Brown some chopped onions and garlic in a big soup pot along with chicken (or in this case, turkey). Add the spices and let them cook for a few minutes. Add two or three fresh tomatoes (or a small can of tomatoes and their juice) plus about half a cup of tomato paste. Let everything cook together for 10 to 15 minutes.

Peel and cut up the root vegetables and the celery. Add them to the pot and then pour on enough chicken broth and water to just cover all the ingredients. Continue simmering for 30 to 40 minutes. When the turnips and carrots are tender, add green beans, zucchini, and bell peppers (either fresh or frozen) to the pot. Voilà.

Season the broth generously with salt and pepper. As it finishes cooking, brown the lamb and then the merguez sausages, separately, in a frying pan. Transfer the meats to the oven to keep them warm. Spoon some of the couscous broth over a cup of so of cooked chickpeas (a can is fine) and heat them up in a saucepan or in the microwave.

Prepare couscous "grain" according to package directions. On your plate, top a mound of "grain" with vegetables and broth. Serve the meats, including some of the simmered turkey or chicken, alongside, and add some chickpeas as a garnish. Mix some hot harissa spice paste into a cupful of broth and dribble some of it over your plate at the table. Prepare to enjoy eating couscous for two or three days.


  1. Here's a more conventional recipe for Couscous Royal:

    2 lbs. lamb shoulder or leg, de-boned
    1 chicken (or 2 lbs. of chicken or turkey parts)
    3 onions
    4 cloves garlic
    6 merguez sausages (spicy lamb and beef sausages)
    2 zucchini
    4 carrots
    4 turnips
    1 stalk celery or 1 small celeriac
    green beans and bell pepper strips (to taste)
    3 very ripe tomatoes (or a can of tomatoes and juice)
    2 cups cooked chickpeas
    ½ cup tomato paste
    3 teaspoons (or more) ras-el-hanout (a Moroccan spice blend)
    salt & pepper
    1 teaspoon paprika
    3 Tbsp. butter
    ½ cup vegetable oil
    2¼ lbs. couscous (medium grain)

    Cut up the chicken and cut the lamb into big cubes. Brown the meat in oil and butter in a big pot for 5 to 10 minutes with the onion and garlic, chopped.

    Add the spices (ras-el-hanout is a blend of cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cayenne pepper, etc.) and the salt and pepper. Put in the tomato paste and fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks, and then add water just to cover the lamb and chicken pieces. Simmer for 15 minutes on low heat.

    Peel and cut up the carrots and turnips. Cut up the eggplant and zucchini.

    Add the vegetables to the pot, along with a celery stalk, parsley, and other herbs if you want. Make sure the liquid covers all the ingredients. Bring the stew back to the boil and then let it simmer 45 minutes to an hour. Five minutes before serving, add in the cooked chickpeas.

    Prepare the couscous grain according to package directions and add butter cut into small pieces to the hot couscous, stirring with a fork to fluff up the grain.

    Cook the merguez sausages in a frying pan.

    The couscous, the meats, the vegetables, and the broth should be served in four separate bowls. In addition, put a cup or two of the broth in a dish and stir in some of the harissa paste. Serve some of the grain, some vegetables, and some meat on each plate. Moisten with sauce, and then let each person add a few spoonfuls of broth flavored with harissa, to taste.

    1. You didn't mention eggplant, whether large or small, in the list of ingredients.
      Couscous, as you know, is one of my favorites.

    2. I noticed the eggplant absence also...

    3. Unfortunately, it's not eggplant season, and I didn't have any in the freezer (mais j'y avais des courgettes).

    4. I could have put in some okra, but I didn't think of okra in time.

  2. The great thing about couscous is that you can't go wrong, at least vegetable-wise. It's all good. And if there are vegetables you don't particularly like, they will be delicious anyway in couscous.
    I also use the green parts of leeks (the white parts get braised in wine on a different day). Better than throwing away, and the soup cooks long enough to soften them up.

    1. I often put in the green leek tops too, and even if you don't eat them they give good flavor to the broth. Couscous is about the most popular dish in France these days, surpassing blanquette de veau and coq au vin in polls.

  3. Sensational! I just borrowed a Moroccan cookbook from the Castelmoron library "Saveurs Marocaines". Hopefully I will post something soon.

  4. We eat couscous all the time, being non meat eaters, it is great instead of spaghetti or rice .. something different . And so good for those juicy saucy dishes that you can scoop it up with a spoon .
    One of my favorite summer meals is an avocado salad with a basic ratatouille over couscous.
    I have been known to throw grated parmesan into the couscous right before serving ..

  5. This is the most delicious sounding couscous recipe I have ever seen...I think you must be well over your jet lag if you can cook something like this!

  6. Curiosity piqued, I went looking for descriptions of, recipes for ras al-hanout. Marcus Samuelsson ("Discovery of a Continent") includes cadamon, only one hyphen. Claudia Roden ("The New Book of Middle Eastern Food") spells it ras el hanout, no hyphens (meaning "grocer's head") says it can include dried rosebuds, bits of dried ginger, and -- not sure I'd want to include this -- sometimes "the golden-green Spanish fly. That last is supposedly an aphrodisiac.

    1. Here's a list of spices that can go into ras-el-hanout. I posted it years ago.


      The first package of ras-el-hanout that I bought in Paris contained just six spices:

      cumin (cumin oriental is specified)
      turmeric (curcuma in French)

      I did some reading on the web and in books and found out that some ras-el-hanout mixtures include as many as 27 spices! I haven't found one that complex. Another package that I bought spells the name with a Z (raz-el-hanout) and contains:

      caraway (carvi in French)
      sweet peppers (piment doux)

      So it's pretty different. I guess using those lists you can make up your own ras-el-hanout powder if you want to. It's a good seasoning for Moroccan dishes like couscous and tagines.


      My understanding is that ras-el-hanout means something like "the grocer's (or the chef's) best spice blend."

    2. I imagine entire dissertations could be written on such variations in all their variety. (I just like to rummage through books as reference.) I remember now that you posted that recipe some time back, and I'd meant to do something with it, so happy to see it again.

  7. You inspired me to replicate your dish. We bought a Moroccan red. Great night. Thanks.


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