Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Ultimate Winter Couscous and Homemade Harissa

While my photos of this wonderful winter couscous are not the best, don't let that stop you from giving this recipe a try. It's January, so by the time this meal finished cooking all my natural lighting was gone. But that didn't stop me from taking a few quick pics so I could at least remember how delicious this recipe was. It comes from one of my newest cookbooks, Plenty, by Yotum Ottolenghi. I've been a Ottolenghi fan for a couple of years now ever since I picked up his cookbook Jerusalem on a whim one day at the library and have been hooked ever since (I've definitely got a case of the creeping Ottolenghis). Every recipe of his that I have tried so far has been just so good, and this recipe was no exception. 

I don't know exactly what it was about this dish that hooked me, but I was flipping through the cookbook just a few days ago and stopped on this page, deciding then and there that I was going to make it. It looked and sounded like a perfect meal for a cold winter evening. It is healthy and hearty and full of fun new ingredients and ideas that I haven't really tried all the much before. Definitely a keeper, and something I would make over and over again. 

This recipe also gave me the chance to finally try making my own harissa, a hot chili pepper paste, which I've been wanting to do for a while now. It is delicious and I highly recommend grabbing a few peppers and making your own, but if you don't feel like it I have seen several jars of harissa at the grocery store. I've never tried any of them so I can't say how good they are but they do exist. 

The list of ingredients for this ultimate couscous does look a little long, that's pretty typical of a lot of Ottolenghi's recipes, but a lot of the ingredients are spices which, if you already have many of them on hand, means you won't have to buy quite as many ingredients. The main players here are some delicious winter vegetables that you cook up really easily in the oven along with some chickpeas and dried apricots. The whole thing is then served over buttery saffron coucous and topped with fresh cilantro. So. Good. 

This was my first time buying saffron. I have never wanted to spend that much money on a pinch of a spice before, but this time I just did it. No, saffron is not cheap, but yes, it did add such a wonderful flavor to the couscous that you just won't get without it. Can you still make this recipe without saffron? Sure, but it will be missing a little something. But don't let that stop you if you want to give this recipe a shot, it will still be delicious! 

Despite the long list of ingredients and instructions, this recipe is actually quite easy. Yes, chopping and prepping the vegetables takes a bit of time, once it's all prepped everything is very simple and a lot of it is hands off. If you prep the vegetables and harissa ahead of time and mix up the spices it actually shouldn't take that long at all. So if you're looking to try something new this winter, new combinations of vegetables and flavors, look no further, this is your recipe. 

All prepped and ready to go!

Homemade Harissa

The Ultimate Winter Couscous
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi 
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • 8 shallots, peeled 
  • 2 cinnamon sticks 
  • 4 star anise
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp hot paprika
  • ¼ tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 1/2 cups (10 oz) pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup (75g) dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup (200 grams) chickpeas (canned or freshly cooked)
  • 1 1/2 cup chickpea cooking liquid and/or water
  • 1 cup (170 grams) couscous
  • large pinch of saffron threads 
  • 1 cup boiling vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons (20 grams) butter, broken into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) harissa 
  • 1 ounce preserved lemon, finely chopped
  • 2  cups cilantro leaves
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the carrots, parsnips and shallots in a large ovenproof dish. Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise, bay leaves, 4 tablespoons of the oil, ¾ teaspoon salt and all the other spices and mix well. Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes. 

Add the pumpkin/squash, stir and return to the oven. Continue cooking for about 35 minutes, by which time the vegetables should have softened while retaining a bite. Now add the dried apricots and the chickpeas with their cooking liquid and/or water. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until hot.

About 15 minutes before the vegetables are ready, put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the saffron and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave for about 10 minutes. Then add the butter and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm. 

To serve, spoon couscous into a deep plate or bowl. Stir the harissa and preserved lemon into the vegetables; taste and add salt if needed. Spoon the vegetables onto the center of the couscous. Finish with plenty of cilantro leaves.

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi 
  • 1 red pepper 
  • 1/4 tsp coriander seeds or 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds or 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 small red onion, roughly chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped 
  • 2 medium-hot fresh red chillies, seeded and roughly chopped 
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste 
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice 
  • 2 to 3 tsp coarse sea salt
Put the red pepper on a very hot grill or under the broiler until blackened (15-20 minutes), turning as needed to blacken all sides. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, leave to cool. When cool, peel and discard the skin and seeds. Set aside.

Place a dry frying pan on a low heat and lightly dry toast the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds for two minutes. Transfer to a mortar and grind to a powder. (Skip this step if you only have ground spices.) 

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion, garlic and chillies over medium heat until dark and smoky - six to eight minutes. Cool slightly, then tip into a blender or food processor. 

 Add the remaining harissa ingredients, including the grilled pepper and ground spices, and blitz together to make a paste. Set aside until you are ready to use it.


  1. Ha ha! Yes! My diagnosis of both of us with "the creeping Ottolenghis" made it on your blog! :) Man, we are so far gone.

    1. Yes it did! I'm afraid it's terminal! :)