Category: Rice, Couscous, and Other Grains
Difficulty: Labor Intensive
This simple Algerian couscous is made only with couscous and vegetables, called simply enough kaskasu bi’l-khuḍra, meaning the same, although another version from Setif, in eastern Algeria, adds lamb shoulder and chicken legs to the mix. This recipe calls for instant or precooked couscous which is what the box label will say. For more on the history of couscous, what it is and how to prepare it, and its cultural context follow the links.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Preparation Time: 2 1/2 hours
2 cups instant (precooked) couscous
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, grated
2 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon harīsa and more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 to 6 quarts water
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large turnip (1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 thin carrots (3/4 pound), scraped and cut in half
4 small zucchini (3/4 pound), quartered
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1. In the bottom of the couscousière or a large pot that can fit a colander on top, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook, stirring frequently, the onions and garlic until soft and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, harīsa, salt, and pepper and stir and cook for 1 minute. Pour in 2 quarts water and the drained chickpeas, bring to a boil over high heat, and add the turnip and pumpkin. Reduce the heat to medium-high.
2. Put the couscous into the top part of a couscousière or a colander lined with cheesecloth. Place on top of the bottom part or the large pot, if using a colander, and cover with the lid. If using a colander and there is a space between the colander and the pot, wrap with a wet kitchen towel to seal the space. Steam the couscous for 20 minutes. Once you see steam rising from the couscous, add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon salt and stir and fluff with a fork and continue cooking, covered.
3. Add the carrots to the broth and replenish it with some water and bring back to a boil leaving the top part off. Add the zucchini to the broth and place the top part back on top and cook until all the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the top part with the couscous, fluff the couscous with a fork, then carefully (so they don’t break apart too much) remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Add some more water to the broth, replace the top part or colander and continue steaming the couscous, covered, until soft and fluffy, 50 to 60 minutes more. Add the reserved vegetables to the broth 10 minutes before the couscous is finished.
4. Transfer the couscous to a serving bowl and fold the remaining butter into the couscous. Once the butter is melted, stir with a fork until all the grains are glistening. Mound the couscous attractively in a large serving bowl or platter. Transfer the vegetables and broth to a tureen for serving. When diners serve themselves, have each person place three serving spoonfuls of couscous into a bowl. Top with vegetables and two to three ladlefuls of broth. Add a teaspoon of harīsa if desired and let the bowl sit to absorb some broth before eating.