This Past Week at La Domestique: Couscous

Couscous (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

Last week at La Domestique was all about couscous! Perfect for summer, couscous cooks in less than 10 minutes and readily absorbs vinaigrette for salads and savory pan juices of meats. I hope couscous week inspires you to wake up your palate with exotic north African flavors and try something new.

Just in case you missed anything, I’ve got a recap for you!

  • Monday:  Announcing couscous as the ingredient of the week on our videocast.
  • Tuesday:  10 Ways Tuesday! Creative ideas for cooking with couscous during summer.
  • Wednesday:  Cook in the moment with a simple weeknight couscous supper. Also learn about preserved lemons, a Moroccan staple.
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Summer Couscous with Chicken & Apricots

Happy Friday! I’m so excited to share this Moroccan inspired summer couscous recipe with you! When I set out to develop a couscous recipe I wanted something summery and light but still satisfying. Many of the Middle Eastern braised meat recipes I came across used lamb and seemed too filling and spicy- more suited to autumn and winter. Morocco is famous for dishes that are more delicate and floral in aroma, unlike fiery Tunisian cuisine. The flavors of my Summer Couscous with Chicken & Apricots are sweet, floral, and fruity. I decided to use chicken thighs because they aren’t as heavy as lamb or beef, but still provide a savory sauce for the couscous. While wandering through the Boulder Farmers Market, the apricots at Morton’s Orchard stand caught my eye. The season for stone fruits is just really getting going here in Colorado, and I can’t resist the allure of blushing pink apricots. I add the apricots at the end of the cooking so they don’t break down into mush. The apricots only need be warmed through, still juicy and firm when the meal is served. I also picked up some Cinnamon Cap mushrooms from the Hazel Dell farmstand. It was their rusty yellow/brown color and shape that inspired me. You could substitute any sturdy mushroom for the cinnamon caps in this recipe.

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Storyboard: Couscous

Couscous Storyboard (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

What is Couscous?

In the U.S. it is easy to mistake couscous as a grain because of the way it’s packaged and sold and because we are so unaware of how couscous is produced. It’s a whole different story in Africa and the Middle East, where making couscous by hand is part of their culture. To quote The Soul of a New Cuisine, by Marcus Sameulsson:

“When it comes to North African cooking, no other food compares in importance to couscous. Called seksu in Berber, this pasta is still formed by hand into tiny balls, then steamed in a perforated pot known as a couscoussier.”

According to the book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, couscous is neither a grain nor a pasta. Maria Speck refers to couscous as semolina flour pellets, which doesn’t sound appetizing at all. Poor couscous, you are more than a “flour pellet.” Historically in the Middle East making couscous is a time consuming and laborious process that involves rolling semolina flour into tiny balls by hand, steaming the balls and then drying them. In Africa couscous is made from a variety of grains such as barley, millet, or wheat bran.

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Cook in the Moment: Pantry Couscous

Last night I made a pantry supper that turned out so good I must share it with you. Sometimes pantry suppers turn out to be the best meals. I’m talking about those times when you really want to go to the grocery store but just can’t make it happen. You’re left staring in the cupboard/fridge/freezer wondering what to make for dinner. Your family is starving and the pressure is on. Then, magic happens! For me, it’s a cascade of ideas. One ingredient catches my eye and inspires my direction. I putter around the kitchen, pulling out pans and rifling through the spice jars. As my plan starts to come together I relax, put on some tunes and pour a glass of wine. Time to get cookin’!

Last night I started with whole wheat couscous. I thought it would be good to experiment with the grain and had no intention of the meal being on the blog. The husband was hungry and I knew couscous would cook faster than pasta or rice. Rather than cook the couscous in water, I decided to defrost some homemade chicken stock in the microwave. A can of diced tomatoes caught my eye and I had the idea to separate the tomatoes from their juices. I would combine the tomato juice with the chicken stock and use it to cook my couscous. The diced tomatoes would be cooked separately with some chard (from my garden) and a can of chickpeas. It’s tempting to use everything but the kitchen sink when cooking from the pantry, but I suggest restraint. Decide on a direction (this meal was admittedly inspired by Italian flavors) and stay focused. In the end I decided to use red pepper flakes and a bunch of fresh herbs, forgoing canned tuna and capers. I think pantry suppers should be simple meals with a few assertive flavors that really elevate the dish. My secret weapon for this meal: preserved lemon.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Couscous

Couscous (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

I’ve come up with 10 ways to use couscous in your summer cooking:

1.  The Traditional Method

Artichoke to Za’atar is a fascinating cookbook organized by ingredients commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Each ingredient chapter is home to a handful of recipes that highlight the ingredient’s particular flavor(kind of like LaDomestique.com). Though routed in tradition, the recipes are modern and fresh. In Artichoke to Za’atar you’ll find instructions on preparing couscous the traditional way, by steaming. The authors suggest aromatics such as cinnamon, onion, lemon peel, and thyme be placed in the water to flavor the couscous.

 2.  Use Your CSA

The bounty of summer produce can be overwhelming when it arrives in your community supported agriculture box. The classic couscous dish of Morocco Couscous with 7 Vegetables is a great way to put summer veg to use. The Great Book of Couscous by prolific food writer Copeland Marks details a recipe in which lamb is stewed with root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and zucchini (prolific in our markets right now). Onions, tomatoes, butternut squash,chickpeas, tumeric and a hot green chili also go into the stew which is served over steamed couscous. Take inspiration from this recipe and create your own 7 Vegetable combo!

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