Greetings From Marrakesh: Moroccan Couscous With Meatballs and Steamed Vegetables
Moroccan Couscous With Meatballs and Steamed Vegetables
To learn how to make couscous (a granular semolina, but also a name for a dish) in a traditional way, I went to see my friend Judith, whom I met in a recent photography class, and who learned it from her mother growing up in Casablanca, Morocco.
“When it’s cloudy outside, I make couscous,” says Judith. “It relaxes me.”
“Never, ever follow instructions on couscous packaging,” she adds. “It’s ridiculous—they treat it like pasta by boiling it in water, but that’s not what you do.”
What you do instead is provide the couscous with a soothing massage, using water and good olive oil. Over the course of about an hour, it will slowly absorb the liquid, each individual grain becoming big and fat. Then it gets a leisurely, turmeric-infused steam bath.
Indeed, this process isn’t quick. But the final result—fluffy, silky, airy and moist—is spectacular, and you won’t want to prepare couscous any other way. The other components of this dish are delicious, too, and complement each other perfectly: steamed mixed vegetables (you can be flexible with what kind you use; just adjust the quantities) served with a strong chicken broth, salty-sweet tagine of meatballs and dried fruit, and a hot harissa sauce.
- Serves 4
- 1 pound medium-grain couscous
- ¾ cup water, divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- ½ pound ground beef
- ½ pound ground turkey
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large red onion, peeled, diced
- ½ cup prunes, chopped
- ½ cup raisins
- 5 dates, pitted, chopped
- ½ cup water
- 1 large fennel, trimmed, halved, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 4 sprigs celery, trimmed, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 zucchini, trimmed, halved horizontally, cut into half-moons
- 2 leeks, white part only, trimmed, halved horizontally, cut into half-moons
- 2 cups baby carrots
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 3 cups chicken stock
- Harissa Sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons store-bought harissa paste
- Prepare the couscous. Place the couscous in a large bowl and add ¼ cup water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Stir, toss, and massage the couscous thoroughly with your hands for 3–4 minutes, breaking any lumps. Cover with a clean towel and let stand on the kitchen counter for 20 minutes. Repeat two more times (add salt and pepper only once), for a total of 60 minutes.
- While the couscous is soaking, start on the meatballs. Mix the ground meats, egg, parsley, salt, nutmeg and white pepper in a medium bowl. Using 1½ tablespoon as a measure, create 12–15 meatballs with your hands. Wet your hands with water during this process to prevent sticking. Place the meatballs on a plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 6–8 minutes. Add the prunes, raisins, dates and water. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until soft and jam-like, about 15 minutes. Add more water if the mixture seems too dry.
- Arrange the meatballs on top of the onion mixture, cover and cook, turning the meatballs over halfway through, until done, about 8–10 minutes.
- Prepare the vegetables. Fill your steamer with 5 inches of cold water. Stir the turmeric in the water and bring to a boil. Place the vegetables in a steamer basket, sprinkle the salt over them and steam, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10–12 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- Wipe the steamer basket clean, line it with a layer of cheesecloth, and add the couscous. Steam over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the grains are fluffy and separate, about 25–30 minutes.
- Prepare the harissa sauce. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.
- To serve, heat the chicken stock and pour it over the vegetables. Place the couscous on a soup plate. Add the vegetables and some stock to taste, depending on how dry or wet you like your couscous. Add the meatballs and some of their sauce. Add the harissa sauce to taste.