Coconut Couscous with Raisins and Nuts (Breakfast or Dinner)

Making very simple food more nourishing is a wonderful trick, when you can figure it out. This is an incredibly easy way to upgrade couscous into something entirely better.

I give it to Maya for breakfast with milk on top, as in the picture, or sometimes serve it under a savory dish from the tagine, like this one. The recipe makes enough you can even do both, over a couple of days. We had this couscous under a fairly basic beef stew from the tagine tonight, and it added the creamy richness the stew needed as a backnote.

For an easy peasy and warmly comforting breakfast, this can’t be beat. Though not pictured, fresh berries are also nice on top.

Ingredients:

2 cups Wholewheat (organic) couscous

1/2 cup Shredded (organic, un-sulphured) coconut

1 (organic) can of coconut milk (Note: Native Forest brand is supposed to be BPA-free; though I’ve asked, I have still not gotten confirmation from them about what they use to line the cans instead and will update if/when I do)

1/2 cup (organic, un-sulphured) raisins; you could also use currents, cranberries or other dried fruits, like diced apricots

1/2 cup (organic) unsalted nuts — cashews are nice, as are slivered almonds

Generous sprinkle of cinnamon

1/2 tsp vanilla extract, or even, better, fresh scrapings from a vanilla bean

Optional: a small amount of sweetener (you can also wait to add it at the end to your breakfast dish if you’d like to use the couscous as a base for a more savory meal later) — I used maple syrup, but honey, molasses or sugar would work fine

Directions:

Heat the coconut milk in a pot, plus enough water to make the can come up to an even 2 cups of liquid (conversion reminder: 8 ounces to a cup).

Add cinnamon and vanilla, then dried fruit and nuts. When almost boiling, take off the heat, stir in 2 cups couscous and cover.

Fluff with a fork and serve with milk for a delicious, easy breakfast!

Moroccan-Inspired Lemon Chicken Tagine

My husband and I both like meat that is juicy and falling off the bone. But I can never seem to plan ahead by enough hours to get a slow-cooker bubbling on.

I finally figured out that a Moroccan tagine was a great solution to us: it’s hat-like shape steams chicken or lamb into juicy, falling-apart goodness in fairly short order (under an hour or so), making dinner possible in a whole new way.

I made up this recipe, but the technique is a classic way to cook meat in a tagine. Basically, you saute the base (onions, garlic, vegetables) and spices, add and brown the meat, and then pour in stock or other liquid and cover. It’s truly easy to cook this way, and the signature Moroccan mixture of sweeter and more savory spices also adds depth and interest to otherwise ordinary ingredients.

There are new enamel tagines, like ours from Emile Henry, that may be placed directly on the stove, so long as you bring the heat up slowly and don’t put it way up on high. (Older models, being ceramic, needed a heat shield for use on the stove.) Though it is kinda’ cool, the tagine is a fairly pricey investment for occasional meals. Much the same effect could likely be achieved in a heavy stock-pot or enameled Dutch oven, if that’s what you have on hand.

Ingredients:

2 Tbls oil for sauteeing

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 (organic) yellow onion, chopped

3 cups or so (organic) chicken stock

3 large red-skinned (organic) potatoes, diced

2 1/2 Tbl mixed spices — I used a terrific Moroccan spice mix, Ras el Hanout, which includes, amazingly,: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, fennel seed, anise seed, cardamom, star anise, cayenne pepper, garlic, nigella, paprika, ajwan seeds (marjoram), kalajeera (black cumin), ginger, lavender, galangal (a close relative of ginger), oris root, rose buds, monk’s pepper, Grain of Paradise, and mace. (Whatever you have ready of those spices, in rough balance, would work well.)

1 fresh (organic) lemon, halved, zested and the zest sliced into small pieces, then juiced

Salt and pepper to taste

4 (organic, and pasture-raised if you can find it) chicken thighs (legs would work well too, if preferred)

Fresh (organic) cilantro

Fresh or frozen peas or other vegetables, such as carrots (optional)

Couscous, prepared according to instructions (optional)

Directions:

Over low heat, heat oil and stir in the spices, then the onions and garlic.

Add the lemon zest, potatoes and any vegetables you are using.

When things have sweated a bit and the onions are translucent, brown the chicken on all sides.

Add stock and cover, keeping the level below the edge of the tagine by 1/2 inch or so, to avoid boiling over.

Cook over medium heat until at a boil, then lower heat to achieve a low boil for 40-45 minutes.

Add fresh squeezed lemon juice and cilantro and enjoy! Serve over couscous if desired.

A Salad with Soul: Roja’s Couscous Tossed Green Salad

Most salads, in my view, are insipid, unremarkable little creatures – hardly worthy of mention, must less a recipe. It’s harder to find an interesting salad than it is to find an honest politician.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when my dear friend Roja Najafi, on a family vakay with us, tricked us into eating her delicious couscous affair on not just one but several nights. In a row. Impressive, indeed.

After my plea for this recipe, on the theory that it might continue to work its magic for my family’s willingness to consume raw greenery, Roja was kind enough to share it, with pictures, instructions and even a soulful blessing, wonderfully enough.

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Roja’s Couscous Salad with Saffron & Beets

This is a very humble recipe, and by this I mean it tolerates change and welcomes creativity. I drastically change the ingredients based on the poverty or prosperity of my fridge. Couscous, saffron, beet, lime/lemon juice and fresh herbs are the constant actors of this play!

The Way I Do It: I rinse all vegetables, fruits, and grains, before cooking, chopping, and eating. For this salad, I chop the veggies finely. I usually use less salt and more black pepper compared to the normal taste.

Ingredients:

1 cup of dry couscous (prepare couscous according to the package directions. I add couscous to the boiling water with a dash of salt, 1tablespoon olive oil & ¼ tablespoon ground Saffron.)

2 average carrots, (grind or chop finely.)

2 average beets, (boil for 20min or until tender. Chop when it is not hot.)

1cup of lentils, (cooked, I switch between black beans and lentils.)

½ cup of chopped almond (you can go by any nuts of your choice or non at all.)

1 average cucumber (slice it as you wish, I chop it finely.)

½ cup of fresh mint (or any aromatic herbs you have available: cilantro, parsley, basil, work well with this salad.)

1 head of lettuce (chopped)

2-3 fresh lime or lemon, (juice it fresh!)

Vinegar (use it as much as you like and any kind you wish.)

Salt & Black Pepper (I go with more pepper and less salt.)

3-4 Tablespoon of Olive Oil

Fresh Fruits: If I have available fresh fruits at home I always add them to this salad. I have liked the result with fresh apples, peaches, grapefruits and nectarines.

Directions:

1- Prepare your couscous based on the basic recipe on the package.  While the water is boiling, or immediately after you add the couscous to the boiling water, add saffron!

2- Cook the beets. Let it cool down and chop after cooling.

3- Cook the lentils. Add a bit of salt if you wish. Drain the extra water.

4- Grind or chop the carrots, place them on the bottom of your serving dish and add vinegar. Let the carrots sit in the vinegar while you are chopping the rest of the veggies. If you’s like, add onions to this salad by mixing them with the carrots and soaking them in the vinegar. This basically cooks the carrots and onions in the acid.

5- Prepare the rest of your veggies and mix them up. Add them to the carrots. Add the beets and lentils. Add your fresh fruits now! Pour the lemon/lime juice on your fresh fruits.

6- Keep couscous for last. After adding the couscous, pour the olive oil on the top. Add salt and black pepper to your liking. Mix well!

7- Enjoy! Noush-e Jaan! (Sweet to Your Soul!) Bon Appétit!