Couscous with Spiced Vegetables

Couscous is traditionally cooked in the top half of a double saucepan called a couscousière. The idea is that as the stew cooks in the base, the colander-like top section steams the couscous. Presumably this neat system has its origins with nomadic people who may not have carried a fitted kitchen around. In any case, a reasonable substitute may be cobbled together by wedging a sieve on top of your saucepan and stretching kitchen foil across to serve as a lid. My kitchen has room for two pots – just – so I cook the couscous separately in a wide pan. This entails no loss of flavour, and I suggest you splash out on a couscousière only if you intend picnicing in the desert on a regular basis.

Ingredients

For the Ragoût

  • 60g ( oz/½ cup) chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 courgettes (zucchini)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 button onions, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 heaped teaspoon saffron
  • 4 tablespoons tomato passata (sieved tomatoes) 100 g ( oz/¾ cup) broad (fava) beans
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • 1 teaspoon harissa (below)

For the Harissa

  • 4–5 long thin red chillies
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Couscous

  • 250g (9 oz/l ½ cup) couscous
  • 25g (1 oz/¼ stick) butter
  • a little ground cinnamon
  • salt

Method

Soak the chickpeas overnight in a generous quantity of water. Next day, boil them in fresh water until tender – this will take about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, to make the harissa, deseeed the chillies and chop them. Soften them in warm water for 5 minutes, then pound them along with the other spices until they form a paste. Whisk in the olive oil.

Cut the carrots, courgettes and bell pepper into 2cm (¾in) slices. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and fry the onions until they colour. Sprinkle with ginger, paprika and saffron, then add the passata and chickpeas. Cover with water and bring to the boil.

Add the carrots and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the other vegetables and return the stew to the boil. Let it simmer for a few minutes, then add the coriander leaves.

About 20 minutes before the vegetable stew is ready, put the couscous in a bowl and stir in 250ml (9fl oz/1 cup) of water. Leave it to absorb for about 15 minutes.

If you are using a couscousière or the sieve and pot arrangement, steam it above the ragoût for about 5 minutes.

To finish, melt the butter in a large frying pan, then add the couscous and heat, stirring continuously. Sprinkle with salt and a little cinnamon to taste. When it’s hot, it’s ready.

Take a cup of the cooking liquor from the vegetables and whisk in 1 teaspoon of the harissa. Serve the harissa sauce separately in a bowl alongside the couscous and vegetable stew.