What I had for dinner:


[ Previous ] 20 Jun 1994 22:56:39 -0400 [   Next   ]

Couscous is my comfort food, my home away from home. It is not hot-weather food, but when need calls, such details fall by the wayside.

In my family tradition, couscous is strictly a lamb affair (mutton really, but try finding mutton in New York). None of that silly chicken from Marocco, plodding beef from Oran, weird tripes from Constantine, or unlikely fish from Tunis. A solid Algiers-style couscous has lamb and it satisfies.

There is not much else that is invariant, except the grain itself of course, and that has now become so commonplace that every supermarket has it on the shelves. I think that every effort should be made to have chick-peas and zucchini, but everything else is pretty much dependent on what's around.

So, I browned a cubed lamb shank in olive oil, then cooked some onion until golden. To that I added 1 large carrot, 1 large parsnip, 1 large leek well cleaned from any grit and cut in inch-long pieces, the shank's bone, 1 medium can of crushed tomatoes, enough water to cover, and a bay leaf, some rosemary, coriander seed, a small piece of cinnamon, a few cardamom seeds (not pods), and 1 large tablespoon of sambal oelek (easier than to have to store fresh cayenne peppers, and very cheap in Chinatown).

This was cooked until the meat was very well done (30-40 min in a pressure cooker). The bone and all but one inch of the carrot and parsnip were removed, and the carrot and parsnip pieces were mashed into the broth. A small can of chick peas, drained, was added, and the broth was cooked a few minutes more.

Meanwhile, the couscous was prepared (I prefer steaming it, but it is OK to use the quick method described on the packages), with a small handful of soaked raisins (I usually add some fresh peas as well, but there weren't any). The zucchini was boiled separately, in large slices, because I like it rather crisp, so it cannot be cooked with the rest. It is possible to fry it in a wok, but then it has to be cubed in small pieces, or the outside burns before the inside manages to cook.

I rarely eat couscous with a spoon, unless I want to show off, and never with bare (right-hand) fingers as the purists demand, but so be it. It is the smell that does the trick anyway.

[This is dedicated to Renée, who would have liked it]

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