Picture this – a little girl, straight off the plane from Hong Kong, dragged all the way to Montparnasse so her father can have a couscous royal. Yes, that was my earliest jet-lagged memory of coucous. One of France’s favourite dishes (and my father’s), the ‘couscous’ is certainly worth its fame. Having inherited the sunshine and warmth from North Africa, the couscous was originally a sacred dish prepared with the best maternal knowledge. Today it is a strong symbol of tradition and union. For me, the ‘couscous’ is a dream of a meal evoking Paris in the 60’s – Godard, Belmondo and black turtlenecks. There’s something very loving about this meal – it must be a combination of the golden semolina melting in the vegetable and meat stew, oozing comfort and joy. For that is what this dish is all about.
My kids always make a special request for couscous – I can’t imagine a healthier meal for them, filled with vegetables and wholesome semolina. As there is a lot of preparation required, I would advise you to cook this dish well in advance. You can improvise and have this meal vegetarian, or only with chicken. As you wish.
Ingredients: (serves 6)
For the couscous stew:
1 kg neck of lamb (collier d’agneau)
3 courgettes/ zucchini
1 large onion (sliced)
2 cloves garlic
2 large tomatoes
2 tbsp ‘ras el hanout’ ground spice
2 tbsp tomato concentrate paste
1 tsp chili powder
450 grs chickpeas (I use canned)
Salt and pepper
Harissa (to serve for those who like it extra-spicy)
For the meatballs:
600 grs minced beef
2 cloves minced garlic
A large handful of parsley
5 chicken thighs
1 lemon (sliced)
12 merguez sausages
100 ml olive oil
750 grs semolina (I use instant)
Large handful of dried golden sultana raisins (optional)
Slice onion and garlic. Cut/chop all the tomatoes, carrots, turnips and zucchini to mouthsized cubes. In a large deep skillet, pour 2 tbsp of olive oil and brown the lamb. Add onion and tomatoes and fry for 5 minutes. Add the ras-el hanout, salt, pepper and chilli powder, add enough water to cover the meat, and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the carrots and turnips and continue boiling for 30 minutes. Add zuchinni and chick peas and continue to boil on a low heat for 1 hour.
Prepare meatballs – mix one egg, minced garlic and chopped parsley with the minced meat. Mix well (I use latex gloves and mix with my hands) and shape little golf sized balls. Fry in batches in a large frying pan until browned and cooked, approx 8 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan, fry the chicken thighs with the sliced lemon until browned and cooked. Set aside. Fry the merguez until cooked and set aside. Cover chicken, meatballs and merguez sausages with aluminium foil and reserve for later.
When you are getting ready to serve, warm chicken and meatballs for 10 minutes in the ‘couscous’ stew.
Place semolina in a large bowl and stir in the olive oil. Pour enough boiling water until all absorbed. With a fork, scrape and fluff up the semolina gently. Place heat-proof bowl/pot in a 120°C oven until you are ready to serve. You can also place the merguez in the oven to keep them warm.
Place merguez, chicken thighs and meatballs on a large serving plate. Pour couscous stew in a large serving bowl. Serve semolina on a deep-set plate (with raisins on top), with a large ladle of couscous stew, topped with the meat of your choice. For those who enjoy an extra spicy flavour, add half a tsp of Harissa in a ladle of soup/stew and mix well.
Moroccan orange salad
I would highly recommend to serve this ‘Moroccan orange salad’ as a refreshing dessert.
3 oranges, peeled and sliced
4 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tbsp caster sugar
A dash of cinnamon
A few mint leaves, finely sliced and extra for decoration
Slice the oranges and place on a serving dish. Mix orange blossom water and sugar and pour over the oranges. Sprinkle a dash of ground cinnamon and mint. Place in the refrigerator so you can serve it chilled.