Modern take on Moroccan cuisine

Julie Falsetti, For The York Dispatch

No matter how much food TV attempts to make cooking look like fun, for some people it is still drudgery. Standing alone in the kitchen, staring down a bunch of raw ingredients, brings on fatigue rather than euphoria.

One hundred years ago, this wasn’t the case. Cooking was a communal affair with many hands making the work lighter. It was a chance to relax, chat and gossip with family members and friends.

Fortunately, with modern food science, we can enjoy dishes that in the past took hours, if not days, to prepare. A case in point is couscous.

Couscous is made from dried semolina flour that has been mixed with water to form a crumbly dough that is then rolled into granules. They are then pre-steamed, dried and packaged. The home cook just has to add them to boiling water, and five minutes later they are ready to eat. Think of couscous as tiny pasta.

Who first came up with the idea of making couscous is up for debate. Nowadays, however, it is most associated with Moroccan cooking. Specifically, couscous serves as a base for flavorful stews.

In Morocco, every house has a couscoussière, a colander type device that sits atop a stew pot. The couscous is cooked with the steam rising from the stew below, imbuing it with the flavors of the stew.

Without any special equipment, the home cook can re-create these Middle Eastern flavors. Couscous is available in all the major supermarkets. I prefer Bob’s Red Mill brand, which is found in the natural foods section. It is more economical than couscous sold in small boxes.

The recipe below is very versatile. Add or subtract vegetables to your taste.

Moroccan Stew with Couscous

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, sliced into thin rings

1 red and 1 green pepper, cut into thin strips

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup crushed tomatoes

2 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes

1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 20-ounce can chick peas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup water

2 tablespoons butter

11/4 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup couscous

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Over a medium-high flame, heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onions and peppers and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are softened. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute more.

Add the tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, zucchini, chick peas, raisins, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

While the stew is cooking, prepare the couscous. Heat the butter, water and salt in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add the couscous, stir once, cover and turn off the heat. Let rest for 5 minutes.

When ready to serve, fluff the couscous with a fork. Serve topped with the vegetable stew. Garnish with chopped parsley.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.