As I have noted on many of my Moroccan posts, Paula Wolfert is responsible for my love of Moroccan food. When I picked up her original Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco cookbook over 20 years ago in the original Sur La Table store at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Washington, I felt a connection to the food and country that I knew so little about.
When Paula announced that she was working on a new Moroccan cookbook, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. But this time my fingers will not physically turn the pages because I am jumping into the 21st century and buying the eBook version. I have run out of bookshelves in my house and made a tough decision that if I wanted another book, I would have to resort to buying the electronic version. So far, I have bought two electronic cookbooks: Encyclopedia of Jewish Food and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. I didn’t invest in an electronic book reader; I downloaded the free reader software for my Mac and I have to say, I rather like the ebooks. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the feel of a book in my hand, but it is really convenient to get a book you want within seconds.
Paula’s latest cookbook, The Food of Morocco, is not available in electronic form until 15 November, but I have pre-ordered it and I cannot wait to scroll through the pages. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait to get my hands on one of the new recipes.
This special recipe deserved to be cooked with the right equipment, so I went to couscous central, Shuk Netanya, to buy my new couscoussière (kiskas in Arabic) and a large sifter to make couscous from scratch. One of these days, I will buy a clay couscous steamer, but the metal one will have to do for now.
This Berber recipe, from the Souss valley in southern Morocco, which is famous for its Argan trees, is a bit unusual if you are not familiar with different types of Moroccan tagines, because the couscous (called kesksou baddaz in Moroccan Arabic) is not made from traditional semolina, but from cornmeal. It calls for mint and cilantro instead of the more conventional combination of cilantro and parsley. Lamb and mint always go well together, and the fresh mint in this dish imparts a wonderful flavor in the meat and goes surprisingly well with the corn couscous.
The only changes I made to this recipe is that I used fresh herbs instead of dried, and made the couscous according to the recipe I learned from my friend Raizy. For a nice fluffy couscous, I would recommend following her recommendations.
500 g (1 lb) fresh lamb shoulder, bone in, cut into 4 large chunks
2 peeled garlic cloves,
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 large handful of fresh spearmint (Nana in Hebrew)
1 pinch of hot red pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
½ cup dried chick peas
1 medium red onion, grated, (about 1 cup)
Argan oil or extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon Moroccan paprika or sweet paprika
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of dried saffron soaked in 3 tablespoons water
Pinch of ground turmeric
2 sprigs each of fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano or 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced fresh or canned Roma tomatoes
1 preserved lemon, pulp removed, rinsed and drained
1 dozen sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 dozen sprigs of fresh mint
680g (1-½ lbs) corn grits or polenta
500g (1 lb) carrots
500g (1 lb) purple topped turnips, swedes (rutabagas) or kohlrabi
500g (1 lb) small courgette
1 butternut squash or pumpkin
2 sweet red peppers, cored, seeded, & quartered
1 tablespoon harissa paste
1 tablespoon olive oil, butter, or smen (ghee)
Fresh spearmint leaves for garnish
One day in advance, marinate the meat in a crushed mixture of garlic, spices and salt. Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of water to cover.
The following day, drain the fresh chickpeas, cover with fresh, cold water, and cook, covered, for l hour. Drain, cool, and remove the skins by submerging the chickpeas in a bowl of cold water and gently rubbing them between the fingers. The skins will rise to the top of the water. Discard the skins and set the peeled chickpeas aside. (If using canned chick peas, peel them and set them aside.
Bring the meat to room temperature. Meanwhile, place the onion, 2 tablespoons oil, ginger, paprika, saffron water, turmeric and herbs in a 5 liter (5 quart) casserole set over medium heat. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion dissolves into a puree, about 10 minutes.
Add the meat and slowly brown on all sides. Meanwhile, stud the lemon with cloves, stuff it with the fresh herbs and tie together with a piece of string. Add it to the casserole along with the tomato and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.
Add the chickpeas and cook for 1 more hour, or until the meat is fork tender and the bones are easily removed and discarded.
Meanwhile, follow my instructions for making the couscous here, but follow the measurements in this recipe.
In a wide bowl, toss the grits with 3 tablespoons argan oil or olive oil and then work in a 3/4 cup of cold water. Let rest and ten minutes later moisten with another 3/4 cup of water.
Add the corn grits to the couscoussière, cover and follow my instructions above.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables: peel the carrots and turnips and cut them into 1-1/2 inch lengths. Trim the zucchini ends, halve and cut into 4 centimeter ( 1-½ inch) strips. Peel and cut up the pumpkin in to large chunks.
Add the turnips and carrots to the casserole and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add the pumpkin, courgette and peppers, and continue cooking until all the vegetables are soft, about 25 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Take the casserole off the heat and remove the preserved lemon bundle before serving.
Dump the couscous onto the middle of a large, preferably round, serving dish and moisten it with 2 cups of the broth and olive oil or smen. Fluff the couscous with a fork and form a huge well in the center. With a perforated spoon, transfer the meat and vegetables into the well. Top with sprigs of fresh mint. Serve the remaining broth on the side.