Couscous is a staple of North African cuisine and it’s undeniably Morocco’s most recognized dish around the world — yet chances are that until now, you’ve been eating and serving it all wrong. The following is my mother’s recipe for seven-vegetable Moroccan couscous. She grew up in Casablanca and learned the traditional technique from her own mother. Note that while many authentic versions of couscous use smen (a fermented butter), our Sephardic Jewish family makes a kosher version with olive oil instead.
Seven-Vegetable Moroccan Couscous Recipe
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 90 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 4 to 6
8 chicken thighs or 4 whole legs or substitute with a homemade chicken or vegetable broth
1 large onion, peeled
1 cup dried chickpeas (soaked overnight) or 1 can of chickpeas
1 small butternut squash, seeded and into large wedges (no need to peel)
6-8 celery stalks, quartered
5 medium to large carrots, peeled in half lengthwise
1 green bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1-2 ripe tomatoes, whole
1 bunch of parsley and/or cilantro, tied with cooking twine (reserve and chop 2-3 Tbsp for garnish)
¼ cup saffron water (dry out ½ tsp crushed saffron threads in a warm skillet, crush again and add to 1 cup of hot water, not boiling)
1 ½ Tbsp of coarse salt
¾ tsp turmeric, divided
2-3 zucchinis, half peeled in half lengthwise
1 large sweet potato
2 turnips in large chunks
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound dried, medium-grain couscous
1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
½ cup of blanched almonds, sliced
If you want to know how to make real couscous, you’re going to have to forget everything you know about the quick-cooking and soaking method. Authentic Moroccan couscous involves slowly and lovingly steaming it to fluffy (never clumpy) perfection in a couscoussier, the North African cookware which looks like a double boiler or stackable steamer. The lower pot is used to make the broth that will both steam the couscous and be served on top of it. The perforated upper pot is for the couscous grains. If you can’t get a couscous, you can use a metal colander or perforated steamer that fits snugly over a stock pot. You’ll want to line it with a later of cheesecloth.
1. In the bottom vessel of a couscous or a stock pot, add the chicken, onion, soaked chickpeas (if using), squash, celery, carrots, green pepper, tomatoes, parsley/cilantro bouquet, saffron water, salt and ½ tsp turmeric.
2. Fill with water to cover the vegetables and chicken, leaving room at the top for the broth to bubble up.
3. Cover pot and bring to a rapid boil, then simmer for about 30-45 minutes until the vegetables soften and the chicken is fully cooked through, skimming any impurities from the broth as it cooks.
4. Add zucchini, sweet potato and turnips to the broth and canned chickpeas (if using). Cook for another 15-20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Add black pepper to taste.
1. While the broth is cooking, dump the couscous grains in a wide and shallow pan, cover with two cups of water and let stand for 1 minute. Stir and then pour out any excess water. Let sit for about 15 minutes for the grains to dry out a bit.
2. With wet hands, lift the grains while rubbing them gently between your fingers and the palms of the hand to release any clumps, letting the couscous fall back into the bowl, 2-3 times.