Sunday, February 2, 2014

Staple Recipe: Vegetable Couscous

When my husband and I lived in France, vegetable couscous was a staple meal for us.  I loved it for several reasons: it was easy, there was no measuring involved (seriously, who measures flour by weight?!), I could use up vegetables we had on hand and it was delicious!!  Also, I was fascinated with turnips, a vegetable out of fairy tales about farmer's wives in far off countries, that I had never even thought about eating in the US and which I bought every time I saw them in the grocery store in France.  Purple tinted creamy white vegetable?  Yes please!

The best recipe I know for using turnips, and probably the only one, is vegetarian couscous.  I think I was inspired by a meal out at a Moroccan restaurant and tried to reproduce the results at home.  My recipe changed every time and that was okay with me!  There's no real wrong way to do it.  I did some Goggling, compared a bunch or recipes for vegetable couscous, and came up with the flexible formula below:


Dry Couscous
Any of the following components:

  • turnip
  • zucchini
  • onion
  • carrot
  • peas
  • garbanzo beans
  • golden raisins
  • butternut squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • yellow or red bell pepper
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • canned crushed/diced tomatoes
  • dried apricots

Any of the following seasonings:

  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • bouillon cube or broth
  • salt and pepper
  • cinnamon
  • turmeric
  • coriander or coriander seeds
  • tomato paste
  • cilantro
  • a bay leaf
  • ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend)

Step 1: Make up a batch of couscous and set aside.  Follow directions on the box.  I prefer making it with broth as opposed to water.  If you want, add golden raisins and cinnamon to the couscous before it begins to absorb the water.

Step 2: Prepare the components.  Peel and dice or cut into chunks, all the veggies you want.  One of each is fine, the more vegetables you use, the bigger the batch will be.  Add some dried fruit, peas or garbanzo beans.

Step 3: Cook it.  You can make this one of two ways.  As a hearty soup with plenty of liquid or as an ensemble of vegetables without the juice.  I prefer the latter, my husband the former but do whatever works for you. Couscous is kinda a dry grain and the soupy version may be best if you're unsure which way to go.  Just add water or broth to the vegetables to your desired consistency.  Steam or boil all the vegetables.  Steam the vegetables and combine them with canned or fresh diced tomatoes for a chunky stew or boil them in broth with 2 spoonfuls of tomato paste, give or take, and a bit of olive oil for a brothy soup.

Step 4: Season it.  Season the mixture to taste.  Use whatever you have on hand or like. Start with a small amount and taste it.  You can always add more of the flavor you like best.  After a while of making this dish, you'll get a feel of what you want to add a lot of (like cinnamon) and what you want to use sparingly (liker coriander seeds).

Step 5: Plate it up.  Put a pile of couscous on the plate and use the back of a spoon to spread it out and make a large hole or dip in the center of the couscous.  Ladle a couple scoops of vegetables and broth into the center and serve.

Ta Da!

Easy right?  You can make it on the stove top or throw it all (except for the couscous) into a crock pot for later.  Store leftover vegetable mix and couscous in separate containers in the fridge.  Easy to reheat in the microwave and makes a great lunch to go.

Our recipe changes with the ingredients we have on hand but almost always has cinnamon, golden raisins, turnips and garbanzo beans in a brothy soup with tomato paste.  I also really love the crunch of the coriander seeds and will usually sprinkle them directly into the couscous mixture.

So there you have it.  Not so much a recipe as a choose-your-own-adventure!  Have fun mixing and matching!

Extra Credit:  The appetizer at these restaurants was usual a cold steamed veggie mix.  I have no idea what it was exactly but you can make a simple version by mixing up some extra steamed carrot and potato chunks with some olive oil and a bit of ras el hanout or curry powder.  Sprinkle with fresh cilantro or parsley and serve cold in a small dish with toothpicks before the main dish.