How to cook the best Moroccan couscous, thanks Riad Laaroussa
How can great couscous be so hard to cook? I’ve made it any number of times, but until I cooked and then tasted the best Moroccan couscous during a visit to Fes, I had no idea how bad my couscous was.
To realize the error of our cooking ways when it comes to couscous, you have to think about what couscous is: basically, a pasta made from semolina flour and water that has been dried and dried. Would you add hot water to pasta, let it sit in the water, and then eat it? Not really. Our instructions usually say to boil water, add the couscous, remove from heat, and let it plump for a few minutes, then serve it. How wrong that is, especially with a semolina product that is so delicate and light.
Michael and I had the pleasure of participating in a casual cooking class at Riad Laaroussa in Fes, Morocco. It’s casual because the riad’s Queen of the Kitchen, Fatima, is just going about preparing dinner and you get to hang out and help her. She’s a smiley cook, obviously happy with her work, especially in such a gorgeous, modern, spacious kitchen. A little English, a little French, a few hand signals, and all is good when cooking with Fatima.
After popping on aprons and taking a few sips of the mandatory Moroccan tea, Fatima just kept handing me vegetables and telling me to cut things. Sometimes she’d grab the knife, show me the right way, and then shove the knife back in my hand so I could try – emphasis on try – to get it right.
The magic in preparing the best Moroccan couscous
Then came the couscous prep. And frankly, this is where the magic happens in my opinion. Because Fatima’s couscous was so fluffy! Why? Because it is STEAMED (twice) and then FLUFFED after the first steam. I fluffed like a mad woman with my hands for what seemed like forever, then we steamed it again! A lightbulb went on in my head – and my arms got quite a workout too.
That night, we were able to enjoy our own creation – and it was just as fluffy and yummy as it looked earlier.
Fatima’s fantastic vegetable couscous recipe
You have to be a little creative here because Fatima doesn’t measure a dang thing.
- Pour the quantity of couscous you need in a bowl, then fill the bowl with water. While filling the bowl, stir the couscous in the water with your hands (see video as Fatima does this). Once rinsed thoroughly, strain out the couscous until you have a wet mound.
- Put the couscous in a steamer
- Steam for about 20 minutes.
While it’s steaming, work on the veggies:
Grab a bunch of vegetables, such as cabbage, turnips, onions, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, and don’t you dare forget the parsley bouquet.
- Chop the vegetables into manageable pieces — e.g. the head of cabbage can be cut into quarters or eighths since it will come apart in the pan, and the carrots should be longer pieces so you can lay them nicely atop the couscous for serving.
- Grate the tomatoes (watch your fingers!), and cut turnips, onions and bell peppers into chunks.
- Toss it all into a pot with the parsley bouquet plopped on top.
- Add a little water as needed to submerge them a bit and create a nice veggie broth, and drizzle with oil.
- Add salt to taste (and any other spices you fancy such as pepper, turmeric and ginger, as Fatima used, or consider cumin or basil, too).
- Cover, and let simmer until just tender, but do not overcook.
Now you are ready to get an arm workout with the couscous:
- Wash your hands and forearms because this is a full-body activity!
- Put the steamed couscous in a large bowl along with salt to taste. Be sure there is plenty of extra room in the bowl, so you don’t toss any out when you mix it.
- Then go to it, digging into the couscous and then pulling it up and over, then doing that over and over to fluff and mix well (short demo in video too). This will take a good 10 minutes!
The best Moroccan couscous gets a second steam! Put it in the steamer for about another 20 minutes.
At this point, the vegetables may be done or close to it. Test with a fork and pull off the stove when done.
Note: Whatever meat, if any, you are adding to the couscous will be cooked in a separate pan or pressure cooker with chopped onions and parsley. Keeping the meat and vegetables separate allows you to accommodate both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Garbanzo beans go in with the meat since it takes longer to cook them both.
Reheating to serve? If you are not serving your Moroccan couscous immediately, you will need to reheat the pieces later. To do that, reheat the couscous briefly in a steamer for about 5 minutes, stirring it a bit to keep it from clumping or sticking.
Pile the couscous on a plate, arrange vegetables and any meat on top, serve.
And now you have mastered how to make the best Moroccan couscous. Thanks, Fatima!
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