Couscous with Mint and Chili-Infused Quince

Poor old couscous. Once rarely seen in U.S. restaurants, and now seen everywhere, it remains misunderstood. There is a reason why the hennaed hands of the Berber women look so smooth and beautiful: it’s from all that rubbing of warm couscous in clarified butter. This rubbing process is one of the secrets to successful couscous. The other is to never use the instant or precooked kind. As with anything, always buy the real thing of the best quality, and please do not pour cold water over the couscous as some books direct.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups couscous
  • ¼ cup clarified butter
  • 1 1-inch-piece cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint, stemmed, stem saved, leaves coarsely chopped
  • 6 quince, quartered, cored, put in lemon water
  • ½ cup ancho-chili puree
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • Salt

Method

Put the couscous in a bowl and pour 6 cups of boiling water over it. Leave it for 15 minutes, then mix it with a spoon until the mass of couscous is broken up and loose. It will still have some small lumps.

Warm the clarified butter, and pour half of it over the couscous. Work the couscous through your hands, rubbing it backwards and forwards, for 10 minutes. Pour the rest of the butter over the couscous, sprinkle it with a teaspoon of salt, and work it another 10 minutes, or until there are no more lumps. Discard any small lumps that will not go away.

Put the cinnamon, cumin, and bay leaves in a pot with a gallon of water. Put the couscous in a colander (or even better use a couscous steamer) that fits the pot tightly, cover the colander tightly with foil, and simmer the water in the pot for 30 minutes.

Add the mint stems, 1 teaspoon salt, and the quince sections to the water under the colander. Stir the couscous well and put the colander over the steam again. Cover and cook another 20 minutes, this time stirring the couscous well every 5 minutes.

When the quince is tender, take it out of the spice water, drain, and toss it in a bowl with the ancho chili puree, butter, mint leaves, cardamom, and orange zest. Season and put the couscous in mounds on warm plates with the quince sections on top.

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