My children have recently taken to couscous in a big way (cue rapturous applause). From my selfish point of view, this is a fantastic development because it gives us one more option for dinner on those nights when you get in late and need to get dinner happening quickly. If you have never made it yourself, couscous can go from the packet to being served in 5 minutes, give or take, which makes it a saviour on our crazier nights.
Getting the kids to eat couscous wasn't hard. I originally sold it to them as something that tasted just like "lots and lots of tiny balls of pasta". Both love pasta, so that was a good start. At first I only used chicken stock, and a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper to flavour the couscous, but now that they like it, I am able to push the envelope a little further. Couscous, like pasta, is infinitely variable depending on what you mix into it. I like to add nuts for the texture contrast (pine nuts, almonds, or whatever is hanging around the pantry), and dried fruit as well for a little bit of sweetness to offset the savoury flavours. And you can use it for all sorts of things, even as a stuffing for poultry (yum).
I spotted this recipe in a recent issue of the wonderful Cuisine magazine. I changed it around a little, dropping the green olives in favour of the almonds, and swapped dates for figs, because that is what we had. Instead of the usual couscous cooking method (add hot liquid and let stand), this recipe creates a tasty base then adds the couscous and stock and bakes. The result was something soft and comforting, in the same way that risotto warms you, although it takes closer to 30 mins. My only slight complaint was that I felt it was a little too wet, so I have reduced slightly the amount of stock in the recipe below. This is one of those recipes that is endlessly modifiable according to your tastes and your pantry.
Spiced Chicken Tagine
adapted from "Cuisine" July 2009
1 red onion finely diced
thumb sized piece of fresh ginger grated
8 boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks
pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tsp turmeric
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp whole coriander seeds, toasted
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, warmed
handful of dates, chopped
handful of blanched almonds, toasted*
Preheat oven to 180C. In a heavy saucepan, melt butter and fry onion and ginger until soft and fragrant (about 5 mins). Add chicken and fry untl it is sealed and just coloured. Add the spices and season. Add the couscous, warmed stock, dates and cover tightly with foil or a lid. Bake for 20 mins. Uncover the tagine and fluff the couscous with a fork - it should be light and fluffy and all the stock should be absorbed. Serve with a side salad.
* to toast spices or nuts, toss in a dry pan over medium low heat until they turn fragrant (spices) and/or golden (nuts).