Saturday, January 27, 2007

Well-herbed Couscous from a Well-loved Cookbook

Like a child’s blanket, hugged until threadbare, my copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian has been loved too, too much. Its spine is broken, its pages are oil-spattered, and its recipes accompanied by barely legible scribbles and flurries of exclamation points.

I was first introduced to Jaffrey by my friends Matt and Steph, hooked by a recipe for salmon curry. I copied a few pages from their edition of From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail, and so began 2004, the Year of Curry. For me, Indian food presented a whole new way of cooking. The recipes made me breathless with their instructions to add ingredients mere seconds after one another, my spice rack became a spice cabinet, and my tolerance for hot chilies went through the roof. Another new discovery was curry leaves, an optional ingredient in what seemed like half of Spice Trail’s dishes. Serendipitously, my now-husband had just begun gardening for an elderly Indian woman with an out-of-control curry plant. He would return home, ever-chivalrous, with curry leaf bouquets.

I acquired World Vegetarian in 2005 and have been cooking my way through it ever since, adopting as dinner staples the Bengali squash curry, Italian chickpea flour pizzas and curried tomato soup. Over these two years, an ever-more-tattered green post-it has marked a recipe for Speckled Green Couscous with Red Potato Sauce. This recipe, a Tunisian dish, attracted my attention with its use of four fresh herbs – cilantro, dill, parsley and arugula – but it remained untried simply because I could never accumulate all of the ingredients at one time. My cilantro plant would be flourishing just when my dill plant had died. The supermarket would have arugula, but scallions were nowhere to be found, or perhaps the tomato paste was out of stock. Today, however, my stars aligned. In fact, even though I couldn’t find fresh dill at the store, I did discover and purchase a dill plant at the nursery (I hope it didn’t mind quickly losing half its leaves), and I compensated for my remaining dill shortfall with some feathery fennel tips, which, according to Jaffrey, are more traditional in Tunisia anyway.

Jaffrey recommends mixing a ¼ cup of the red potato sauce with cayenne and serving it as an accompaniment to the dish in place of harissa, a hot, North African spice paste. My sauce did not produce enough liquid to spare, however, so next time I’ll prepare some of my own harissa beforehand. I also think I’ll double the sauce portion of recipe, as it had a satisfying richness that well-compliments the herb-lightened fluffiness of the couscous. I wanted more! Next time…if only my new dill plant will not die, and the stars that oversee ingredient availability once again align….

Speckled Green Couscous with Red Potato Sauce
Slightly adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
Serves 4

Potato Sauce
3 tablespoons / 45 milliliters olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters tomato paste
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground cumin
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground coriander
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
12 ounces / 340 grams boiling potatoes (about 5 medium), peeled and cut into 1 x ½ x ½-inch / 2½ x 1¼ x 1¼-centimeter pieces
1½ teaspoons / 7½ milliliters salt, or to taste

1½ teaspoons / 7½ milliliters salt
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters olive oil
½ cup / 125 milliliters parsley, finely chopped
4 tablespoons / 60 milliliters cilantro (a.k.a. coriander), finely chopped
3 tablespoons / 45 milliliters feathery fennel tips, finely chopped
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters fresh dill, finely chopped
4 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
½ cup / 125 milliliters arugula (a.k.a. rocket), finely chopped
2 cups instant couscous

To make the potato sauce, put the oil in a medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and fry it for a minute. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Next, add the tomato paste, and stir it for a minute. Add the ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika and cayenne, and stir once more. Put in 4 cups of water, the potatoes and the salt. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a rapid simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Adjust the salt, if necessary.

To make the couscous, bring 2½ cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt, oil, parsley, cilantro, fennel tips, dill, scallions and arugula. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the couscous, stir and cover. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit in a warm place for 5 minutes. Uncover, and fluff thoroughly with a fork.

Serve the couscous immediately, topped with the red potato sauce.

This post is an entry in Weekend Herb Blogging, a food blog event founded by Kalyn’s Kitchen and hosted, this week, by Tomato.


fourthgradeblog said...

I'm vowing to learn more about Indian cooking, so it was interesting to read how you ventured into it. This sounds wonderful. I'm sure the harissa in a jar is not quite as good, but I do have some in my fridge (and no idea really what to do with it!)

Ed Charles said...

I like the sound of the spicyness of this couscous. Do you think it would worth with the big couscous - I've this jar of I must use up but there are so few recipes for it. Thanks for taking part in the Weekend Herb Blogging. Cheers!

Helene said...

I love couscous as salad in summer. It´s so refreshing. Thanks for the recipe.

Kalyn said...

'm vowing to learn more about Indian cooking, so it was interesting to read how you ventured into it. This sounds wonderful. I'm sure the harissa in a jar is not quite as good, but I do have some in my fridge (and no idea really what to do with it!)

Carolyn said...

Kalyn - Good luck in your quest to learn more about Indian cooking – it is really so much fun. I'm vegetarian, so Indian cooking is great for me. There is a curry I can make with practically any veggie I have in the fridge!

Ed - Thanks for hosting this food blog event! Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the big couscous you mention. Have you had luck substituting this big couscous for the smaller version in the past?

Helene - I love couscous in the summer, too – especially since it requires no cooking. Got to love dishes that don't heat up the kitchen!