I’m starting off with some healthy and diet foods from now onwards. Reduction of carbs and sweets and turning out some healthy wholesome and tasty salads and soups along with some bakes and mains. “Two birds in one shot” thats my aim in this series. Those who are following me on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/simiskitchendiaries/) will be knwoing about my recent trip to Morocco and spain. I found some really interesting healthy dishes during this journey and I have clubbed it with my healthy diet series. Watch out my space for the travelogue cum foodlogue which will be published soon.
Coming back to the dish, today I’ve chosen the famous Moroccon Couscous Salad. Morocco, mountainous country of western North Africa that lies directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. Its cuisines originate in North-Western Africa. The foods and dishes of Moroccan culture take great advantage of the natural resources of the region. Moroccan cuisines often have Spanish, Arab, Middle-Eastern, and African influences. In Morocco, eating is not only necessary, but is also a social ritual. The chefs in the kitchens of the four royal cities (Fez, Meknes, Rabat, Marrakech), helped modify what we know today as Moroccan cuisine. Moroccan food is strongly influenced by Arabic culture because of the large Arab population found in Fez and Marrakech. When they came there in the seventh century, they brought a different culture that is unlike any other African food. Unlike in American culture, lunch is considered the most significant meal, except during the holy month Ramadan, where food is served in abundant portions.
A server in Morocco might take up to a week to prepare a suitable dinner for her guests. The meal often consists of as many as fifty courses. It takes a whole day just to make Bstilla, a crisp pastry, rolled as thin as tissue paper, filled with chicken. The dinner starts with Bstilla, followed by the typical brochette or kebab flavored with bits of beef or lamb fat. Next comes the Tajine, chicken or meat in a spicy stew which has been simmered for many hours, and it is served with a flat bread called Khubz.
Couscous is extensively used in cooking in this region. It is served as salad and also added with meat and fish in preparing dishes. Couscous is made from two different sizes of the husked and crushed, but unground, semolina of hard wheat using water to bind them. Semolina is the hard part of the grain of hard wheat (Triticum turgidum var. durum), that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive medieval millstone. When hard wheat is ground, the endosperm—the floury part of the grain—is cracked into its two parts, the surrounding aleurone with its proteins and mineral salts and the central floury mass, also called the endosperm, which contains the gluten protein that gives hard wheat its unique properties for making couscous and pasta–that is, pasta secca or dried pasta, also called generically macaroni. Couscous is also the name for all of the prepared dishes made from hard wheat or other grains such as barley, millet, sorghum, rice, or maize.
Although the word couscous might derive from the Arabic word kaskasa, “to pound small,” it is generally thought to derive from one of the Berber dialects because it does not take the article indicating a foreign language origin. It has also been suggested that the word derives from the Arabic name for the perforated earthenware steamer pot used to steam the couscous, called a kiskis (the French translation couscousière is the word English-speaking writers have adopted), while another theory attributes the word couscous to the onomatopoeic–the sound of the steam rising in the couscousière, the most unlikely explanation.
The key to preparing an authentic couscous is patience and care. Experience will prove the best guide, but these instructions are meant to cut that time down for the novice. There are two basic steps in preparing couscous before the cooking process: forming the couscous and humidifying and drying the couscous. The first of these steps, forming the couscous–that is, preparing couscous from “scratch”–is rarely done anymore, even by Moroccans, Algerians, and Tunisians. Only poorer folk, some rural populations, and Berber tribes still make couscous from scratch. The original “from scratch” process involves rubbing and rolling together large grains of hard wheat semolina with finer grains of semolina sprayed with salted water to raise the humidity of the semolina so the two sizes affix to each other to form couscous, the large grain serving as a kind of nucleus for the smaller grains.
But today when one buys couscous, whether you are buying it in North Africa or at a whole food store in this country, in a box or in bulk, this first step has been done, and it is this made-from-scratch couscous you are buying. The second basic step, which is the only step you need to be concerned with for the couscous you buy, is the moistening process before cooking. Your ultimate goal is to have tender, light couscous swollen with the steam vapors of the particular broth the recipe calls for.
Couscous is steamed one, two, or three times over broth. Couscous is cooked in a special kind of cooking ensemble called a kiskis, known by the French word couscousière in the West, except in Italy, where it is called a couscousiera. A kiskis consists of two parts: the bottom portion is a pot-bellied vessel for the broth while the top part fits snugly over the bottom part and has holes in its bottom for the steam to rise through, which cooks the couscous. In North Africa, they are often made of earthenware or aluminum.
I steamd couscous in a normal steamer. I steamed it thrice. Couscous is very sticky, hence I washed it in cold water and rinsed it immediately. If you put in water for long, it’ll get mushy and gooey. Strain it for sometime. Place a muslin cloth in steamer and steam it first in original condition for 10 minutes. Second time I added the flavors and steamed it for 20 minutes and the third time 15 minutes. Add the broth and bloomed saffron little by little so that the couscous doesnt become water and messed up. You can bloom the saffron in water or in the milk of your choice. If you want to make it comepletely vegan then use water or almond milk. Since I had bloomed one in milk, I used the same.
Usually veggies like cabbage and potatoes are also added. But for this salad, this combination of vegetables pairs the best. I add cherry tomatoes often when I make this which I did not add this time. I used rosemary infused olive oil, which can be substituted with regular olive oil. Usually garlic is added in the salad dressing which I did not do as I added it in generous amount when I baked the veggies.
Flavoring the vegetables is my version of doing it, to make it more flavorsome as the couscous is literally flavorless. The choice is completely yours. I added in the spices which we prefer. Cumin, Coriander, Cinnamon, Turmeric gives that punch needed for a dish. Adding it in the right proportion will nail this dish. So you can adust this once after making the salad.
This is not only a salad, but complete meal which is very fulfilling. We generally have soups and salads for dinner, thus keeping it light. This one is a nutritious and healthy salad which can be a exciting side dish too. Do put in your feedback as I would like to know the different combinations you used for flavoring the veggies.
Add all the vegetables to a baking tray. Mix the marinade together and add to the veggies and combine.
Bake in a preheated oven till cooked and firm.
Wash and drain the couscous. Spread a muslin cloth in a steamer basket and spread the couscous.
Steam for 10 minutes. Mix it up with a fork breaking the lumps. Transfer to a bowl.
Allow to cool down.
Work the grains with your fingers to separate and moisten them evenly.
Add the turmeric, stock and saffron in small quantities and work on the couscous either by rubbing it between your palms ( this can be done as you do preparing the flour for Puttu or steamed rice cakes)or you can do it with a fork as I have done.
Steam again for 20 minutes. Cool down and add more stock and saffron according to the texture. Steam again for 10-15 minutes. this will depend on the couscous quality. The couscous should be soft, cooked and doubled in size by the third steaming.
Break down the lumps if any.
Allow it to cool down a bit. Prepare the salad dressing by combining all the ingredients.
Add the baked vegetables, chickpeas, coriander and mint along with the salad dressing.
Incorporate everything adjusting the seasoning. Serve hot or cold.