Couscous à la Marga

Couscous from the Magreb

Couscous, the national dish of north Africa, is now widely eaten in the south of France. This spiced meat and vegetable stew makes a good dish for a large party of people and goes well served late in the evening when the weather is very hot.

This slightly adapted recipe comes from Prosper Montagné’s Le Grand Livre de la cuisine, but for a version to feed fewer people you could not do better than use Claudia Roden’s in A Book of Middle Eastern Food.

I have eaten many versions of couscous but one of the best was served by a Brazilian couturier who was running a pension in the Rhône valley while waiting for a lawsuit in Paris to be completed. Alas, Carlos no longer serves us his couscous royale in his pink dining-room in between darting back into the television room, where he was running up a dress in purple chiffon for a local bride to wear at the party after the wedding.

The grain couscous is made from semolina and is now sold ready to cook. It is available in health-food shops or in grocers’ shops in student areas. If you are keen on preparing couscous regularly it may be worth bringing back an aluminium couscousier from a French hypermarket – they are not expensive.

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Ingredients

  • kg(3 lb) chicken
  • kg(3 lb) shoulder of lamb, boned
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 artichoke bottoms
  • 3 courgettes, cut in chunks
  • 1–2 turnips, cut in pieces
  • 1–2 onions, chopped
  • 1–2 green peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 225 g(8 oz) broad beans
  • 100 g( oz) chick peas, soaked and half-cooked
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1–2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cloves

Sauce Royale

  • 1–2 tablespoons harissa
  • 1 kg( lb) couscous grain

Method

Cut the chicken into portions and discard the skin. Cut the lamb into large pieces. Cover with water in a large pan and bring to the boil. Skim off any froth and discard.

Add all the remaining ingredients (I think the recipe is improved if artichokes, courgettes, green peppers and broad beans are added half-way through the cooking time), cover and cook for 1 hour.

Place a colander or the top of the couscousier on top of the pan and add the grain. Cook for a further ¾–1 hour, stirring the couscous grain with a fork half-way through the cooking.

Turn the grain into a hot serving dish and the stew into another. Mix about 300 ml(½ pt) of the meat juices with the harissa and pour into a bowl to hand separately as a sauce.

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