Wednesday, February 2, 2011

North African Couscous

Attention college students!  Do you have little time to spend on food preparation?  Is your only cooking appliance a microwave?  Do you just need something fast, tasty, and relatively healthy to get you going?  I’ve got just the thing for you: Couscous!
A grain originating in North Africa, couscous consists of little balls of wheat that only take 5 minutes to make!  Just add hot water! Add a teaspoon of chicken bouillon, and you’ve got a tasty meal with 0 grams of fat.  It’s a far healthier choice than ramen with the same prep time!  So when you’re in Walmart debating over what carbs to buy, be sure to try couscous!

If you can’t tell, I’m a recent addition to the couscous fan club.  I can’t believe that it took me this long to discover it!  It’s fast and delicious and you can do so many things with it.  I will forever be grateful for this blog, which inspired me to try it.

I cooked couscous to get a taste of P.C. Wren’s 1924 classic adventure story, Beau Geste.  The story is about the three Geste brothers, upper-class English boys who live with their aunt, Lady Patricia.  Lady Patricia owns a very large, priceless diamond called the “Blue Water,” which goes missing.  Soon after its mysterious disappearance, the three brothers end up joining the French Foreign Legion, where they encounter many adventures and hardships in the deserts of North Africa. 

My oldest sister discovered this book somehow (she is one of those “voracious readers”), and she recommended it to my other sister, who in turn recommended it to me.  I loved it so much, I now feel that it is my responsibility to pass on this little-known book to everyone I know.  So if you haven’t read Beau Geste, go read it!  It’s a super entertaining story, with mystery, adventure, and lots of fun.

This story takes place largely in North Africa, when the Geste brothers were in the French Foreign Legion, which is where couscous comes into the picture.  Wren writes, “We filled the worthy Maris up with cous-cous and galettes (pancakes and honey), and strolled back to barracks” (Wren 226). 

I’ve always wanted to try couscous, ever since my mom came back from a trip to Morocco raving about how good it was.  I decided this was my chance.  (I also want to try galettes -- better known as Breton Galletes or Buckwheat Pancakes -- sometime, so be ready for that in the near future).  The text doesn’t exactly say how the couscous is prepared, so I had to search for recipes and choose the one I liked best.  Even then I tweaked it, but it’s still a good recipe. I got it from

North African Couscous
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 2 cups)
  • 2  cups  water
  • 1 1/2  cups  uncooked couscous
  • 1/2  cup  golden raisins
  • 1/2  cup  thawed orange juice concentrate, undiluted
  • 1/3  cup  lemon juice
  • 2  tablespoons  water
  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 2  teaspoons  ground cumin
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 3  cups  chopped ready-to-eat roasted skinned, boned chicken breasts (about 3 breasts)
  • 2  cups  chopped peeled cucumber
  • 1  cup  chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4  cup  thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/2  cup  chopped fresh cilantro
  • Sliced green onions (optional)
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, and gradually stir in couscous and raisins. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Combine orange juice and next 6 ingredients (orange juice through black pepper); stir well with a whisk.
Combine the couscous mixture, juice mixture, chicken, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl, and toss well. Garnish with green onions, if desired.
I deviated from this recipe a good deal, mostly because raw bell peppers make me gag.  Here is what I did differently:
  1. Cook chicken, shred with fork, and set aside (I had leftover pork, so I didn't actually have to do this step).
  2. Add boiling water (with 1 tsp of chicken bouillon) to couscous and raisin mixture.  Cover and let stand 5 minutes.
  3. Fry the bell pepper (yellow) and onion (yellow) in olive oil until soft. 
  4. Add cumin, water, salt, pepper, turmeric (1/4 tsp), and lime juice and stir well.  Add orange juice concentrate and chicken (or pork) and heat for 1 minute. 
  5. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro.  Fluff couscous with fork and top with orange mixture. Serve warm.
cooked couscous

Cilantro, Onion, Bell Pepper

Cooking onion and bell pepper

sauce without meat or cilantro
Final Product

It was delicious!!  I was worried that it would be all orangey and weird, but it turned out to be amazing.  When I tasted it, I couldn’t help but say “Oh wow!” aloud.  It was tangy and exotic without being weird or spicy.  I will definitely be making this again, and often.

By the way, I tried it both warm and cold, to get a feel for how the original recipe was.  It is delicious cold, but I personally think it’s even better warm.  But then, I think almost everything is better warm.

On a completely unrelated note, I'd like to express my condolences to Sam LaCara's family and friends.  Mr. LaCara was the assistant principal at Edwin Markham Middle School when I attended, and then worked as the principal at Louisiana Schnell Elementary School (the elementary school Julie and I attended) until today, when he was shot while in his office.  He died shortly thereafter.  He was a very good man, and he had a big influence on the education in Placerville.  It's sad that such a small, safe community has to be marred by something as awful as this.  Please keep Mr. LaCara's family in your prayers, as well as the students and employees at Schnell.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

The couscous looks delicious! I would totally go for that.

Who shot him, and why?