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Cooking Project for April

SallyBR1's picture

This will be my single project for this month.

Couscous - the real thing. Or maybe a close variation of it.

now, I do not have a couscoussiere, and NO, I am NOT buying one. Will have to improvise. I think the most important thing is to make sure and steam the grains three times, separating the grains with the hands. But if folks here have advice and suggestions, please post away

I will be making it on Saturday, Alex will be with us, should be fun

I would like to include sausage, lamb shanks and chicken, the way they do the Couscous Royale in Paris, Alex will like that.

I got a couple of wonderful looking lamb shanks.... could I prepare anything in advance, say on THu or Fri eve?

as far as veggies, I will have to take a step back, not using "7" veggies - zucchini, eggplant will have to be out.

Fine Cooking has a good recipe, that does not call for a couscoussiere - I might use that as a starting point.

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
Marcia's picture

(post #67245, reply #1 of 33)

Enjoy yourself, Sally. I'm sure Alex will enjoy eating it, and expect you and DH will, too. Sounds really good.

Do you have a tagine? If you don't, I'm not suggesting you buy one, please understand.

SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #2 of 33)

I do not have a tagine.... (sigh)

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
Marcia's picture

(post #67245, reply #4 of 33)

Bet you have some beautiful LC ovens, and they work nicely.

Edited 4/20/2008 9:06 am ET by Marcia

Marie Louise's picture

(post #67245, reply #3 of 33)

This is a recipe from the chef at Aziza in San Francisco. IIRC, you made a recipe from him when you were cooking out that Bay Area book (before he owned his own restaurant.)

They serve INCREDIBLE couscous there. I'm not sure whether or not it is saffron-infused, but whatever he says to do about steaming, etc., I would assume it is good advice:

SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #5 of 33)

Yeap, I remember him from the book

I bookmarked that site, and will study it very carefully...


Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
pemnel's picture

(post #67245, reply #6 of 33)

I have a friend from Algeria whose mother hand makes all of their couscous. The last time he was home, he video taped her making some, quite interesting. 

Although I'm not all that fond of couscous, her's is excellent. It's very tender.

When she came to the US for a visit, she came and cooked some for us.  Without a couscoussiere she used my old Reveirware steamer, (I'm sure you know the pan, double boiler/steamer combination) and she tied a linen dish towel around the joint between the steamer and the bottom pan so that absolutely no steam escaped.

She left me about 5 pounds of couscous when she left and although we didn't have a common language, (she doesn't speak english, I don't speak Berber or French) she made it clear that this method would do until I got my own couscoussiere.


Marie Louise's picture

(post #67245, reply #7 of 33)

DH once gave me a couscoussiere as a present in the 1970s. Neither of us had any idea what it was for. We used it almost daily, though, to steam vegetables. It worked well.

knitpik's picture

(post #67245, reply #8 of 33)

You might be interested in these videos. Food Safari is an Australian TV program. These videos are on Morocco...with a little Aussie touch.

soupereasy's picture

(post #67245, reply #9 of 33)

Please take pics. I look forward to hearing about this. :)

SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #10 of 33)

Change of plans, folks....

we will be having a pizza party for the whole lab tomorrow - so couscous will be postponed. I might make it in the middle of the week, I think the lamb shanks will be fine, they are vac packed with a date of May something for use

because Alex is coming, we thought it would be more fun for him to see everybody - he was working in our lab last Summer, and made friends with our grad and undergrad students.

sooooo, LOTS of pizza dough in the making tonight

I promise to take photos of my couscous adventure whenever it happens...

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
Tess's picture

(post #67245, reply #11 of 33)

Here is another reference about making coucous.

Tess's Japanese Kitchen
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #13 of 33)

Thanks, Tess - great source!

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).

Glenys's picture

(post #67245, reply #12 of 33)

Sally, as you probably know I spent several long sojourns in Morocco and I've never been able to get traditional cous cous in Canada.  I can buy cous cous from Morocco but it's instant.  There's Israeli, but it's not the same, and it's much too large and too sticky.  If you buy Near East brand (or is it Far East?) at the store, it's instant and it doesn't need or require the entire process of rubbing with oil etc that traditional cous cous does.  Now if you just plan to steam it over a tajine (the stew, not the pot) it will work but you won't find it holds the flavour the same way.  I could go on but I know you're eating pizza.

Also, you don't need a couscousiere (steamer unit in top, holds the tajine stew in the bottom) just a steamer, pot and probably some cheesecloth. 

Edited 4/28/2008 1:54 pm by Glenys

SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #14 of 33)

I was planning to improvise a "couscoussiere'like" concoction

cheesecloth we do have a ton in the lab - might steal a piece :-)

yes, we did have pizza on Saturday and it was wonderful - I am having trouble to schedule the couscous, but the lamb shanks in the fridge are putting pressure on me

stay tuned

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
Glenys's picture

(post #67245, reply #15 of 33)

If you're using the instant cous cous as I mentioned, you don't have to the do the steamer. Add flavourful broth to the cous cous and it's ready in five minutes of sitting. Doing the long steam process won't yield any more flavourful cous cous if you're using instant. Let me know if you have some "real" cous cous.

Marie Louise's picture

(post #67245, reply #16 of 33)

In her first post, she said she wants to try making "the real thing."

But for the rest of us....

Glenys, do you have any suggestions for improving the flavor of the Near East brand? I've eaten the real thing at Aziza in SF a few times, and it bears little resemblance to the instant couscous as prepared per the box's instruction.

Glenys's picture

(post #67245, reply #17 of 33)

Just read this. I have some ideas and I'll connect tomorrow.
Have a big day tomorrow.

Tess's picture

(post #67245, reply #18 of 33)

Not Glenys, but the link knitpik posted a bit ago shows a woman who lives in Australia making "instant" coucous. She uses a secret ingredient to add flavor so it tastes more authentically North African. To replace "smen," she uses a bit of a light bleu cheese! Sounds like it might be worth trying.
Specifically this video:

If you are looking to make couscous from scratch, you start with semolina. I know I've found it in Michigan in several grades, ie, how finely ground it is. One place here is a specialty "bulk food" store that has durum wheat flour—they sell all sorts of gourmet foods, spices, and tea, mostly from bins. There is also a food coop here, like a health-food store, with organic vegetables, local ingredients, and pantry staples. Other places are Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. I have used it for pasta, in bread dough, and some Mediterranean desserts. I've never made couscous, though.

Tess's Japanese Kitchen
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #19 of 33)

sorry Glenys - here i am

couscous day is TODAY. Period. I AM making it, no matter what. It will be just for hubby and I, I can freeze leftovers

I do have "real" couscous - got some whole wheat couscous at the gourmet food store in town. Only couscous I could find that was not quick cooking. I hope whole wheat is ok.

I will go to the lab get cheesecloth and improvise a couscoussiere - now, Glenys, if I wanted to have chicken and lamb (not sure I'll add sausages because I cannot find the traditional mergez anyway) - how would you advise me to cook the chicken? Keep in mind I do not intend to choke it. Just cook it.

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
Glenys's picture

(post #67245, reply #20 of 33)

Sally, why don't you roast chicken or lamb, or grill and do a vegetable tajine under the cous cous? I'm emailing a few recipes to you. Do you have Paula Wolfert's book or did you check out her discussion on

SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #21 of 33)

I don t have her MIddle Eastern cookbook, and pretty much gave up searching on eggulet - can never find what I'm looking for in that site :-(

I got your email, you do have a fantastic selection of stuff! However, I had already started cooking when I saw your email - I'm making a mix and match of a recipe from Fine Cooking, websites posted here, and now I'll definitely incorporate bits and pieces of one of your recipes

I ended up browning the lamb shanks, browning pieces of chicken (thighs and drumstick only) and braising them together with all the usual suspects (ginger, cinnamon, paprika, tomatoes, onion, garlic, saffron, etc etc) - chicken already out, lamb shanks need another hour or so, I want it falling off the bone

the real adventure will be steaming the couscous, which I'll do three times.

apart from the fact that I am exhausted, things are going smoothly

I really like the "Lamb Shank Tajine with Prunes and Honey" recipe that you sent me - as well as the chicken brochette - those are now in my computer and I'll make them soon

thanks, Glenys!

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #22 of 33)

Note to self, and to all folks who might be cooking the "real" couscous

when you steam the couscous using cheesecloth, be very careful not to set it on fire, as it overhangs outside the pan

(huge sigh)

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
Tess's picture

(post #67245, reply #23 of 33)

ooooh. right.

You should wet the cloth before rinsing, draining, or steaming with it. They do stuff with cloth in a lot of the Japanese cooking. Also, bulldog clips work very well to hold the cloth.

Tess's Japanese Kitchen
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #24 of 33)

will definitely do that next time... :-)

on a tangent: nice to see your blog getting out there with lots of readers! You must be real happy about it!

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #25 of 33)

Ok, cooking project is done!

you can check some photos here

sallyparis2002 at


turned out pretty good, it was a lot more work than I imagined at first.

if you ever make this dish, make sure to allow some extra time because the couscous, after each steaming, needs to cool down a bit so you can rub the grains by hand.

all in all, a success project

thank you for all the suggestions and advice!

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
Tess's picture

(post #67245, reply #26 of 33)

I don't seem to be able to get to your pictures on Snapfish... could be that I'm on a mac?

Anyway, what sort of semolina did you end up using to make the couscous? What recipe? where did you find it, etc. I'd be very interested in more details???

About the tangent re: the blog world, I'd say it's a lot colder out there than the nice warm forum at CT. Here, I felt that there was a sort of conversation going on. Many people were so helpful and experienced. I really liked that.

In the blog-o-sphere, I have not yet found my voice: I am no expert, I'm not writing to myself as in a diary, I'm not writing to an established group with a common interest, my literal (as in real-life) friends and relatives don't comment because I have been sort of secretive, some internet people comment or email, but mostly it seems like a dark theatre.... I'm surprised about how many "hits" my blog gets, though.

On the other hand, the blog is helping me to keep the Japanese cooking experiences organized and searchable/find-enabled. It was difficult to find what I thought about the things I cooked when I was just posting here—no real search function here.

Tess's Japanese Kitchen
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #27 of 33)

I don t understand why you cannot see the pictures - I am having a little problem in that if I play the slideshow, the captions don t show up at the bottom. NOt sure why.

I can post a couple of photos here for you, but will have to resize them first, will try to do it asap

the recipe I used as a guideline was (I answer some of your questions below the recipe)


Couscous with Lamb & Vegetables
by Mohamed Ben Mchabcheb

Be the first to rate this Recipe

Though most of us are used to the quick-cooking method of soaking couscous in boiling water, this authentic Moroccan method of steaming and fluffing three times by hand yields plumper, more tender grains that are worth the extra effort. Look for couscous in bulk at Middle Eastern markets or else use any packaged couscous in the supermarket. You can make the broth up to two days ahead.Serves ten. Yields 12 cups couscous and 1-1/2 cups harissa.
For the lamb broth:
1/2 cup olive oil, plus 3 Tbs. for sautéing
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Large pinch saffron (about 30 threads or 1/2 tsp., lightly packed)
1 Tbs. ground ginger
1 stick cinnamon
1 Tbs. ground coriander
1 Tbs. paprika
2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper; more for the shanks
2 tsp. kosher salt ; more for the shanks
6 medium cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
3 lb. lamb shanks (2 or 3 shanks)
2 tomatoes, cut in large dice
2 small turnips (or 2 parsnips), peeled and cut in large dice
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut in 1-inch pieces
1 bay leaf
10 sprigs each of fresh cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, tied with kitchen twine
For the harissa:
2 roasted (or grilled) red bell peppers, skinned, stemmed, and seeded
5 dried red chiles, soaked in hot water for 20 min., drained, stemmed, and seeded (reserve the seeds)
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the couscous and seasoned water:
2 cups flour mixed with 2 cups water, to seal the pot
1-1/2 lb. (4 cups) couscous
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Large pinch saffron (about 30 threads), crushed or pulverized
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
One 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon; more as needed
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
For the caramelized onions:
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste (about 1 tsp.)
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 cup golden raisins
For the vegetables:
8 baby carrots, peeled (or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces)
1 large sweet potato (8 oz.), peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
1 lb. winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch chunks
1/4 medium white cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces (4 cups)
6 baby eggplant (or 1/2 medium globe eggplant), cut in 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
4 small zucchini (12 oz. total), halved lengthwise and cut in 1-inch pieces
how to make
Make a savory lamb broth:

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the olive oil with the onions, spices, salt, and garlic; mix well.

Heat the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Season the shanks with salt and pepper and brown them on all sides (in batches, if necessary). Reduce the heat to medium and add the seasoned onion mixture, stirring occasionally, until the spices release their flavors and aromas, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, turnips, and red pepper, stir to coat, and cook until the tomatoes are soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the bay leaf and tied herbs and then add water to cover by 1 inch (10 to 12 cups). Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lamb pulls off the bone easily, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours. Transfer the lamb to a platter and cover with foil. Continue simmering the broth until it’s full-flavored and reduced to about 8 cups. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Discard the tied herbs, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick. Spoon off the fat that collects on the surface.
Make the harissa:

Coarsely chop the roasted peppers and put them in a blender. Add the chiles (but not the seeds), garlic, cumin, coriander, and salt. With the blender running, pour in the olive oil in a stream until the mixture becomes smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer the harissa to a bowl and stir in the chile seeds.
Prepare to steam the couscous:

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and water to make a thin paste; set aside. Cut a three-inch-wide strip of cheesecloth long enough to wrap twice around the rim of your couscoussière (a colander that rests snugly over a stockpot can stand in for a couscoussière).

Put the couscous in a very large bowl or a roasting pan. Cover the grains with cold water, swishing to remove the starch. Drain immediately. Let the couscous rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the seasoned water by mixing the oil, saffron, turmeric, cumin, salt, pepper, and 3 cups of water. Fill the stockpot (or the couscoussière) with 2 inches of plain water (which shouldn’t touch the bottom of the colander); bring to a boil.

As the plain water is heating up, scoop up some of the couscous with your hands and rub the grains together lightly to separate them and break up any lumps. The couscous will feel dry. Sprinkle on a bit of the seasoned water and continue to separate and fluff the couscous with your hands, letting the grains rub against one another and dribble back into the bowl. Sprinkle on a bit more of the liquid and continue rubbing so the couscous starts to feel moist but not wet (no liquid should accumulate in the bowl); you’ll use about 1/2 cup of the liquid.
Steam and fluff the couscous:

Set the colander over the simmering water. Sprinkle the couscous into the colander (or the couscoussière steamer) without pressing on the grains.

Wet the long strip of cheesecloth, then dip it in the flour-water paste. Wrap the soaked cheesecloth twice around the gap between the colander and the stockpot to seal. Cook until steam appears through the entire surface of the couscous, 10 to 20 minutes.

While the couscous is steaming, heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium high. Add the sliced onions, cinnamon, pepper, salt, sugar, and raisins. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes; set aside.

Reduce the heat on the couscoussière to very low. Carefully unwrap the hot cheesecloth strip. Dump the couscous into the large bowl; break up clumps with a spoon. When the couscous is cool enough to handle, fluff again as described above, moistening it gradually with about 1 cup of the liquid. Repeat the steaming and fluffing a second time.

As the couscous steams for the second time, bring the lamb broth back to a boil and add the carrots, sweet potato, and squash. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the cabbage and eggplant. Simmer the vegetables for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pull the lamb meat off the shanks, discarding the fat and bones. Cut the lamb into bite-size pieces. Add the zucchini to the broth and simmer until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more. Return the lamb to the broth to moisten and reheat it. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed.
To finish the dish:

After fluffing the couscous a second time, return it to the couscoussière and steam for a third and final time. Dump the couscous into the large bowl or pan and break up clumps with a spoon. Stir in the chickpeas, raisins, cinnamon, and butter. When the couscous is cool enough to touch, moisten and season the grains with about 1 cup of the lamb broth, using the same rubbing technique as before.

Heap the couscous on a platter. Clear a hole in the center by pushing the grains toward the perimeter. With a slotted spoon, arrange the lamb and vegetables in the center, leaving some of them in the broth. Serve with the harissa, the caramelized onions, and individual bowls of broth, which people can sprinkle on their couscous to their taste.

From Fine Cooking 37, pp. 54-57


my changes: no caramelized onions, storebought harissa. No eggplant, no cabbage, no sweet potatoes. Just zucchini, carrots, red bell pepper, garbanzo beans.

I know, I know, horrible changes, but my beloved and onions do not agree, he has a hard time digesting them, so I skipped them and also reduced the amount of onions in the braise. I also did not want to make a gigantic amount of food, so kept it simple, with fewer veggies. We still have enough for two more dinners, easily.

I added chicken pieces - browned a couple of thighs and a couple of drumsticks, included in the braise together with the lamb shanks, removed them when very tender.

I did not add the butter and cinnamon at the end either - whenever possible, I skip butter or added fat that seems too much. Maybe the dish would be even more luscious, but.... it was tasty enough without it.

Couscous - I found whole wheat couscous, not quick-cooking kind = at a gourmet store in town, sold in bulk. That's what I used. It was delicious and behaved during the steaming and fluffing steps exactly as described.

Marie Louise sent me a link (found above in the thread somewhere) - and I followed it too for the steaming fluffing, except that he was using semolina and forming the grains with addition of semolina flour - I thought it was a bit too risky to go that route for my first time, and also I could not find semolina, just couscous itself.

I will work on the photos to post for you

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #28 of 33)

Here are some photos....

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).

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Tess's picture

(post #67245, reply #29 of 33)

Wow! That is impressive. It looks so so delicious that I'll have to venture into some Middle Eastern grocery stores.

Thanks for typing out the recipe.
Edit to say that snapfish just worked for me. dunno why it didn't work last night.

Edited 5/4/2008 10:06 am ET by Tess

Tess's Japanese Kitchen
SallyBR1's picture

(post #67245, reply #30 of 33)

I just used cut and paste straight from "My Fine Cooking" (gosh, I love my subscription.... :-)

we added more of the liquid to the plate when we ate it, but of course then it is not very photogenic... tasty, but not good looking

harrissa, from my point of view, is absolutely mandatory - I add quite a bit to my plate, hubby skips it. He is anti-pepper.

Research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

(through MadMom, March 2008).