Ever since I came back from Morocco, I had been meaning to cook this national Moroccan dish – Chicken couscous with seven vegetables. Primarily because I loved it! Not a believer of love at first sight but this North African dish is surely a love at first bite for me. Also through my research I figured out that Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Libya and to a lesser extent in the Middle East and Sicily. Traditionally, Couscous is a Berber dish from North Africa. Moroccans indulge in this rich, filling, and dynamic dish that I absoutely loved the idea of how it is served- meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Deliciously healthy and a perefct royal meal!
Couscous itself is made by mixing semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat) and water, and then shaping into little “grains” of pasta. The pasta is then coated with flour to prevent them from sticking to each other. This part is already done and any Moroccans buy packaged couscous for their dish. I bought them readymade too from my local supermarket.
I have this strong command over flavours- I can exactly tell you all the spices or ingredients used in a dish immediately after tasting it. Yes I do! And and ..I claim that I can cook or recreate any dish that I have tasted in my mouth at least once in my lifetime. O’right o’right I passed the self-appraisal test here;) Lets’s get down to the art of cooking couscous and how it inspired me to cook this rather a difficult dish at home in London. Let me warn you that preparation of this dish is a several hour ordeal.
After surviving another early morning flight, we reached to Marrakech around lunch time starving to death. We headed to the nearest popular (recommended by locals) restaurant serving Couscous (all restaurants do!) and had this grand meal before driving down to Chefchaouen. I promised it is tasty, but be warned the portions are huge. My King Couscous would have fed 4 people. One quick tip here- ordering one main dish and some salad on the side and sharing it between two/three friends is probably a good idea rather than ordering main dishes for each one of you. Sadly, on the first day, we had to leave plenty on the plate due to fullness despite the fact that I hate to waste food. So, order wisely!
I promised my partner then and there that I will cook this at home once we go back to London. I had my research on- to begin with, I kept trying it out in different retaurants in different cities in and around Morocco during our stay. This research stage was highly benefited when I met my Moroccan friend Sou in Casablanca, she filled me up with some interesting cultural facts related to couscous. ”For a believer of Islam, Friday is a holy day. It is the Jumma day when believers go to the mosque to pray. So there is a family gathering after the prayer for lunch and whats better than the national dish to celebrate that day”, Sou told me.
One more person, in fact an entire organisation who had made this zeal to cook Moroccan national dish possible is the team of La Maison Arabe. As you probably have read my post on our Hammam experience there, after the post was published, the manager of La Maison Arabe Mr. Jose, wrote to us kindly expressing his gratitude and send us a note of thanks with a copy of their in-house recipe book. Humbled and honored by this gesture!
”The oldest restaurant in the medina of Marrakech, and the city’s first riad-hotel, La Maison Arabe remains to this day a renowned address where one experiences Morocco’s legendary hospitality and art de vivre. Its kitchen are runs by dadas, traditional Moroccan women chefs, who for the first time are sharing their cullinary secrets in an informative book that includes recipes for appetizers, main courses and desserts, as well as Moroccan wine pairings.” Team OneTimeFashionista is hugely thankful and grateful to be acknowledged by La Maison Arabe.
Let us cook now
Although I have shared the exact recipe from this book here, however, I have made a few changes in my own preparation method. That’s right, I have got myself a Tagine serving dish from Morocco but since I do not have the charcoal stove in the flat where I live in London on which I could keep the Tagine pot made of clay. Putting it on a gas stove that most of us use in our city homes could be risky as it may burst out and break the Tagine pot. Please follow the same steps or moderate as you like even when cooking in a regular pan. The result will still be the same.
Another change I brought to this preparation method is, I haven’t taken the pain to buy anything that was not available at home on the day of cooking. You can always modify as far as the types of vegetables used or drop an ingredient or two if they are not easily available in the city you live in. For example: I didn’t use Cilantro and Parsley. Instead, I used star anise and raisins. It gave an unique soft, fruity aroma to the dish.
Lastly, I didn’t steam the couscous in a pot, rather I poured hot water in a bowl mixed with olive oil, pinch of black pepper and rock salt. Stirred it with a fork constantly to keep them separate and made sure it does not stick to each other to make into small lumps.
Yield: 4 Servings Ι Preparation time: 30 minutes Ι Cooking time: 1 Hour
1 Chicken (1 kg)
2 Tomatoes (Peeled and cut in medium pieces)
1 Onion (Coarsely chopped)
1 small bunch of parsley
1 small bunch of Cilantro
1/3 cup olive oil (you can use what suits you, I used less than this)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 small cabbage (cut in a quarter or half depending upon the size)
1/2 small butternut squash or a chunk of red pumpkin (cut into medium pieces)
1 zucchini (ends removed and halved)
2 carrots (peeled and halved)
1 turnips (peeled and halved)
1 cups dried chick peas (soaked in water overnight) or 1 can of chick peas
3 red chillies (optional)
400 gms of couscous
2 table spoons vegetable oil
2 table spoons clarified butter
Salt (to taste)
Preparation method for the Chicken and Vegetables:
Note: to prepare this dish traditionally, you will need a Moroccan couscous pot called Tagine. (I cooked in a regular non-stick pan but served in a Tagine)
Step one: drizzle the olive oil in the bottom section of the couscous pot and add the chicken, onion, tomatoes, spices, and one fourth cup of water. cover the pot and seer the chicken for five minutes on medium heat.
Step two: Add the cilantro, parsley and harder vegetables i.e. cabbage, carrots, turnips, and chick peas.
Note: If using canned chick peas, add them at the end as they are pre-cooked and just need to be heated in the sauce.
Step three: Add two cups of water, cover the pot and cook on medium heat for 40 minutes or until the chicken is done.
Step four: Check on the chicken from time to time and add water as necessary until the chicken is cooked.
Note: At the end there should be enough sauce covering the chicken as the broth is served on the side of the couscous.
Preparation methods for steaming the Couscous:
Step one: While the chicken and vegetables are cooking, prepare the couscous.
Step two: In a large bowl, mix the couscous with salt and vegetable oil. Add half cup of water and mix well. Let the couscous sit for five minutes then rub it with the palm of your hands to break the lumps. You can also use a fork to separate them.
Step three: Add the couscous to the upper section of the couscous pot and place it on top of the bottom pot (that contains the chicken and vegetables). Cover the top pot with the lid and cook on medium heat until you see steam coming up from the couscous (approximately 10-15 minutes). This is the first steaming.
Step four: Remove the couscous from the couscous pot and place it in a large bowl. Add one cup of water, mix well and let the couscous sit for 5 minutes.
Step five: Return the couscous to the top section of the pot and steam again until you see steam coming up from the couscous (approximately 10 minutes). This is the 2nd steaming.
Step six: Check if the couscous is done; it should be soft. If the couscous is not cooked yet, let it steam a little longer. Otherwise, remove it from the pot, place it in a bowl, and fluff it with a fork. Add the clarified butter while fluffing.
Step one: Once 40 minutes have elapsed, remove the chicken from the pot and reserve. Taste sauce and adjust the spices accordingly.
Step two: Add the softer vegetables to the pot: zucchini, butter nut squash, and red chillie peppers. Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes or until done.
Step three: Serve by setting the couscous grains, first in a dome shape, pouring some sauce over the couscous, placing the chicken in the center, and the vegetables on the top of and around the dome. Pour the remaining sauce in the bowl and serve with the couscous so your family can add sauce, to their taste, to their individual plates.
P.S. Some regions in Morocco add potatoes and/or sweet potatoes to the vegetables. Feel free to add any vegetable of your choice. You can also replace the chicken with lamb or beef; if so, the cooking time will be longer as red meat takes longer to cook than chicken.