Couscous (Vg, V)
A story in History
My father was born in Algeria in 1952, when it was still French, from a long line of Spanish immigrants. He was the third generation to be born French in Algeria, and also the last. When he and his family had to leave Algeria in 1962, they didn’t even consider Spain to settle in; French was their nationality and French had became their first language. They landed in a small town in the Alps, and brought back with them a hundreds of different Spanish, French and North African recipes, three languages (Spanish, French and Arabic) and a lot of stories and history.
They adapted well in this new country, and my father, who only saw snow for the first time that year, became a really good skier. But they never forgot Algeria, the palm trees and the way the sun used to shine, the smell, the colours, the sounds, the people. And a way to remember all of this is also through cooking.
Saved by the couscous
I stop you right there, my dad doesn’t cook. Not even pasta. So my grandmother passed on all her recipes and savoir-faire to my mother, her daughter in law, and both of them passed them on to me. Unfortunately a lot of those recipes can’t really be adapted into vegetarian/vegan, except one: the famous, well-known, traditional couscous!
Couscous (from the Berber word seksu – wheat) is originally a Berber recipe that mixes together durum wheat semolina, seasonal vegetables, legumes, dried fruits in a spicy flavoured vegetable broth. It would traditionally be accompanied with meat (generally lamb).
Couscous is a delicious meal, rooted in French and North African history – it is indeed in 1962, when Algeria became independent and the “pied-noirs” (including my father, his sister and his parents) came back to France, that the couscous really entered French culture. It is also famous all around the Mediterranean, and every country and family has its own version of it.
A colourful plate
It is extremely easy and quick to make, and you can really be creative and mix the ingredients you like or that are more seasonal – for example, you can replace courgettes with pumpkin in the winter, and you can also add turnip.
This one is my family’s version- minus the meat. No more talking, here is the recipe. Bon appétit !
Couscous (Vg, V)
- 400 g couscous
- 2 gloves garlic
- 2 brown onions
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tbsp ras-el-hanout (2 tbsp for extra spices)
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 carrots
- 2 courgettes
- 200g green beans
- 1 can chickpeas
- 50 g sultanas (or more!)
- 1 bunch fresh coriander
Wash and roughly chop the carrots, courgettes and green beans in bite size pieces. Rinse and drain the chickpeas, and reserve for later. Peel and finely chop the onions and the garlic. In a big pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and put on a low heat. Once hot, add the chopped onions and cook until onions are soft, then add the garlic.
Add the ras-el-hanout, the cumin and the cinnamon to the pan, and stir until the onions and garlic mix is well coated.
Boil a kettle. Dissolve your vegetable stock cube in 1L of boiling water with the tomato purée, then add to the pan. Once it is boiling, add first the carrots, reduce the heat and let cook for about 5 min, or until the carrots are soft, but not completely cooked.
Then add the chopped courgettes and green beans. Cook for about 20 min or until all vegetables are cooked and soft. Add the chickpeas and the sultanas, and cook for another 5 min. When the mix is cooked and ready, roughly chop the whole bunch of coriander, and add it to the pan.
In the meantime, prepare the couscous as per instructions on the packet. Usually, you just have to cover it with hot water, and let it absorb it for about 10 min. Salt and pepper. You can also add some olive oil (or any other vegetable oil of your choice) to make it more fluffy.
Serve on a plate, with a bit of couscous, the vegetables and the broth on top. Add shredded almonds, or dried apricots or even pine nuts if you’d like and enjoy!