Roasted roots and couscous pilaff with harissa-sweet pepper oil and pastries or felafel

The intensified sweetness of the roots and the mingled flavours of the chermoula and herbs make this pilaff one of those things you can’t stop eating. The hot and sweet oil adds a touch of excitement, but to really do the pilaff proud, serve it surrounded with a variety of small intensely flavoured snacks - some that I use are tiny filo pastry parcels of feta cheese, deep-fried felafel and aubergine-chilli rolls. The reason I do the pilaff with roots is simply to give the roots their big day out - everybody looks down on the poor things - but as the year wears on you can add any other roasted vegetable (asparagus, beans, peppers and courgettes work well) but roast them separately from the roots and add them in with the couscous. By the way, the weight given for the roots is for the amount you need after peeling, coring etc.

Ingredients

  • 600 g root vegetables - carrots, swede turnips, parsnips, celeriac
  • 1 dstspn cumin seeds
  • 1 dstspn fennel seeds
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
  • 2 red onions, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 320 g couscous
  • 300 mls stock or water
  • about 100 mls chermoula
  • fresh coriander
  • fresh parsley
  • 200 mls harissa-sweet pepper oil

Method

PEEL THE ROOTS, cut the woody cores out of the parsnips, then chop the roots into large bite-size pieces, allowing for a small degree of shrinking in the oven. In a pot of boiling water, cook the carrots and turnips for two minutes, then add the other roots and cook for two minutes more. Strain the vegetables, and toss them in a roasting dish with the seeds, garlic and the onion. Season with salt and pepper, stir in enough olive oil to coat the vegetables, and put the dish in a fairly hot oven, 350-380°F (Gas Mark 45). The vegetables will need to be tossed and turned once or twice during cooking, which should take 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on the oven temperature - the vegetables should brown and caramelize a little at the edges, but serious browning before being cooked means the oven is too hot; too low a temperature will cook the vegetables in a sweaty way, without any delicious caramelizing.

Meanwhile, cook the couscous by pouring 300mls of hot water or light stock over the 320g of it. Quickly stir it once or twice and leave it to soak for 15 minutes. Sift it with a fork, slotted spoon or, most efficiently, your fingers. Stir the couscous into the vegetables, sprinkle a few splashes of water over, cover the dish with foil, and return it to the oven to heat through (five or ten minutes). Just before serving, stir in the chermoula and handfuls of chopped fresh coriander and parsley, if you’ve got them handy. This won’t cool the pilaff unduly; it tastes best a good few degrees down from hot anyway.

Spoon mounds of the pilaff on to four plates and pour a stream of the harissa-sweet pepper oil around each. Leave a jug of extra oil on the table, or a little straight harissa, for the chilli fiends among you.