Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tunisian Cous-Cous

She knocked at the door where the new Americans had moved in and said she wanted to practice her English.  Nadia was 18 years old, a beautiful, delightful, outgoing Tunisian, daughter in a large family in the neighborhood near the vegetable market, with a mother and sister who loved to cook - she hooked me with that!  They taught me, the adventure-struck expat, to make Cous-Cous, the national dish of the Maghreb (North Africa).  I taught them to make brownies and apple pie and always felt that I made out better in the deal.

Cous-Cous to Tunisians implies the main dish staple, smothered in a piquant meat and vegetable, tomato based stew.  No such frou-frou as Lemon Glazed Oxtail Cous-Cous Salad.  The following authentic version uses beef, though chicken, fish and a spicy local sausage, merguez, often appear as the star.  Cous-cous is a hearty, soul-soothing, family dish, just exotic enough to pique the adventurous palette, but tame enough to temper finicky appetites.  Cook it low and slow to let the flavors meld.

Tunisian Beef Cous-Cous

1 package couscous
5 cups water
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tab. sugar
2 pounds chuck steak, cut in 2-inch cubes
2 beef bouillon cubes (or 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut
1 large onion, sliced into 2-inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch lengths
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 cup peeled, cubed banana
1 tab. cardamom or acorn squash
1 tab. powdered cumin
2 hot peppers, quartered (opt)
dash cayenne pepper
¾ cup tomato paste
1 tsp. crushed dried red chili peppers
1 1lb. can chickpeas, drained
2 green bell peppers, seeded, cored and quartered

-In large stew pot, heat oil and fry meat, onion and garlic, stirring until meat is brown. Add salt, pepper, cardamom, cumin, cayenne, tomato paste, dried chili peppers, water, sugar and bouillon cubes. Stir and cover. Let simmer 1 hour or until meat is almost tender. (If using chicken, remove after 30 minutes and continue simmering sauce.)

-Add potatoes, carrots, squash, chickpeas and peppers. Cover and simmer until vegetables are just barely tender, stirring occasionally. (Add more water if necessary.

-Cook couscous according to package directions.

-Arrange cooked couscous on platter and top with meat and vegetables. Pour some of the sauce over the meat and couscous. Serve remaining sauce in a separate container.

-Serves 8 – 12. (Couscous may be made with cubed lamb, chicken or white fish, if desired.)

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