14 Apr Not your typical grab-and-go couscous
As I stepped in to the kitchen at Riad 72 to make a Couscous Royale, man-about-the-riad Rachid informed me that while couscous isn’t his favourite dish, but he would eat it if prepared by the right woman.
Then out came Mustapha, the head chef at Riad 72, and he told me about beldi couscous, handmade by local women using the traditional techniques which include drying it for several hours in the sunshine. I knew immediately that the convenience couscous we often pick up on-the-go in the West wasn’t going to even compare to what I was about to prepare.
As someone who rarely cooks, I started to get nervous as we peeled the seven vegetables that would accompany our couscous. But as we laughed and joked throughout the cooking class and various staff members stopped by to check in to see how I was doing as a student, I began to relax and enjoy the experience. After all, couscous is not a meal prepared in a flash. It took about two hours from prep time to lunch time.
What you need:
1/2 kilo of couscous
1/2 kilo of beef or chicken
1 cup of chickpeas soaked overnight
1 cup of broad beans
Bunch of parsley
2 cups of cabbage
2 cups of pumpkin
1 green pepper
Salt and pepper
1 cup of raisins
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white sugar
Finely chop one onion, tomato and a bunch of parsley and place in the couscoussiere with approximately 1/2 kilo of beef and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil until beef is browned. Then add broad beans and chickpeas (with the skins removed) and four tablespoons of olive oil and stir occasionally.
While this is simmering, peel and slice the carrots and parsnips, remove the seeds from the pumpkin (leave the skin) and green pepper, peel half of the aubergine and zucchini leaving some of the skins and slice in half length wise, and chop the cabbage in large chunks.
With the vegetables chopped add the cabbage, carrots and parsnips to the meat blend that is simmering away. This is also the time to add the spices: a pinch of pepper, a teaspoon each of paprika, saffron, salt and ginger. Then cover with boiling water and place the lid over the pot.
Now it’s time to prepare the couscous. Spread a half kilo of couscous onto a large platter and sprinkle with table oil before mixing the two ingredients together with your hands. Place on the top part of the couscousiere and leave uncovered as the steam rises from the bubbling mixture below for about 10 minutes.
Remove the couscous and place on the platter. Slowly pour a 1/2 litre of water of the couscous allow it time to absorb the water and become soft.
At this time it’s time for a taste test. Grab a spoon and sample the sauce bubbling away in the pot to determine if any spices are needed.
Return the couscous to the couscoussiere and poke holes in the couscous to allow the steam to evaporate.
Now for the dfala. Chop two onions, add a cup of raisins and some pure cinnamon along with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 tablespoons of sugar and place on medium heat stirring often to create the caramelized onion blend.
After 20 minutes remove the couscous and return to the large platter where you will slowly pour a cup of water mixed with a tablespoon of salt over the nearly ready couscous and let sit while it absorbs the water. In the meantime add the remaining vegetables: green pepper, aubergine and zucchini. Then return the couscous to the top part of the couscoussiere and prepare your serving ware. After nearly two hours, the couscous is almost ready to be served!
Check that the vegetables are prepared and start making a bed of couscous. Place the meat in the centre and surround with the steaming vegetables. Top with caramelized onions and serve!
The moment of relief
“I only eat couscous prepared by certain women. Otherwise it can be too dry. Or too much water in the couscous,” exclaimed Rachid.
After ensuring the vegetables were cooked to perfection, we carefully placed the meat and seven vegetables over a bed of couscous before I proudly showed it off to the other staff. As I sat eating my couscous, they sampled as well. And approved!
One thing I noticed that Riad 72 does differently is the quality of products selected. Having lived in Marrakech for over four years and regularly enjoy a bowl of couscous on Fridays as the locals do, I noticed that this recipe used only the finest ingredients. Couscous beldi, an ingredient sourced locally rather than at the supermarket, and they even use real saffron rather than an inexpensive colorant that most restaurants use.
Guests staying at Riad 72 can book the cooking class directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer to have someone prepare the couscous, book a table at La Table du Riad and we will prepare a platter of Couscous Royale for you to enjoy on the rooftop terrace of Riad 72.