Do not let my mention of dried persimmons in the fish stew put you off trying this marvellous recipe. I used them because I had them. Rather than substitute dried apricots or peaches, which have a very pronounced flavour, I would use dried apples or pears, or simply a couple of handfuls of sultanas or seedless raisins. Almonds can be substituted for the pinenuts. If you cannot get grouper, use monkfish or the thick end of a cod fillet - something with plenty of depth, texture and density. For the spice mixture, I have not been too specific, since it is a matter of taste. I like to use plenty of cardamom and cumin, but you might prefer to use more cinnamon and cloves. You can make up the mixture from ground spices, or pound your own with a pestle and mortar. Chillies, too, are a matter of personal preference.
Fry the spice mixture in the olive oil in a large sauté pan or wok for a few minutes, and then stir in the onion and chillies. Add the aubergine, celery and courgettes to the pan together with the dried fruit, lemon and half the stock. Cook for about 20 minutes. Put the couscous on to steam, and add the shredded herbs, ginger, sugar, chick peas and nuts to the stew. Cook for a further 10–15 minutes, adding the remaining stock. Put the fish pieces on top, replace the lid, and let the fish just cook through, which will take 6–8 minutes, depending on the thickness.
Transfer the stew to a heated serving dish, garnish with mint, olives and toasted almonds, if you wish, and serve with the steamed couscous.
Another way to present this dish is to spoon the cooked couscous into an oiled ring mould, press it down, then turn it out on to a heated platter, and spoon the fish stew into the centre.
© 1995 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.