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Vegetable Couscous

I am sure that behind most good meals there is a good story. I personally can recall that all the memorable meals had a before or after story and this week’s recommended Couscous recipe is no exception.

I was in Paris and my wife to be had travelled up by train from Milano so that we could spend a little time together. After two days of excellent French food, we were in the mood for a different fare. Whether someone had recommended Arab food or we just happened on the place I do not remember but somehow we found ourselves on the first floor of an unimposing, backstreet Moroccan restaurant.

We had still to learn that Moroccan cuisine is among of the worlds finest but back in those days, even Indian curry dishes was still thought of as being exotic or foreign. As neither of understood the menu, we threw ourselves on the mercy of the waiter. He recommended mixed starters of Spinach Empanadillas, vine leaves stuffed with garlic yoghurt and Brandade de Morue (saltcod), which to our inexperienced palates all tasted divine. This was followed by a pungently spicy Lamb Couscous, a dish we had previously never heard of.  With the Couscous we polished off a bottle of bold Algerian Rosé. For the dessert the ever helpful waiter suggested a delectable Mango and Passion Fruit Gelato. Incredibly strong and sweet black coffee topped off this memorable dinner.

It was still early when we left the restaurant and we were enjoying a warm Paris evening aimlessly looking for somewhere to have a nightcap when we ended up in front of the Ritz Hotel. A great place to have that last drink; in the same hotel bar were my hero Ernest Hemmingway had regularly supped. It took a bit of persuasion on my part, as we were both casually dressed. I was wearing a brown Harris Tweed, hacking jacket with a pair of scuffed brown boots. Wife to be was a little more chic, with a smart grey skirt and matching cashmere sweater.

The famous bar, impressive as it was, was unfortunately empty, so we were wandering through the hotel looking for another one, when we walked into the middle of a reception. There must have been around fifty people dressed in their finest. It was black ties and tails for the men and long gowns for the women who were festooned with tiaras, diamond necklaces, brick heavy gold bracelets. Only in the Tower of London where the Crown Jewels are housed, have I ever seen such a collection of jewellery.

We were preparing to take our  leave when a Louis 15th liveried and bewigged waiter offered us champagne and canapés. By then we could not escape but it became even more embarrassing when a photographer started snapping pictures of us.  In few moments we became the centre of attention as the some of the guests vied with each other to be photographed with us.

Our French was limited and the waiters were of no help. Alas, we never found out who they thought us to be and, even worse, we were both leaving Paris the next day, so we were unable to get copies of the photographs. However, to this day, whenever we eat Couscous we remember that occasion and still have a good laugh.

Vegetable Couscous

Couscous only takes 5 minutes to make. When you load it up with fresh garden veggies like zucchini and red bell peppers, you get great antioxidant nutrition. Add some ginger and hot pepper flakes and you’ve made one fast and spicy treat for a night when you don’t have a lot of time to cook.

1 cup dried couscous
3 cups vegetable stock or water, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
4 carrots, cut into coins
pinch hot red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Put the couscous in a large bowl and add 1 cup of boiling stock or water. Cover the bowl and let stand for 5 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add carrots, red pepper flakes, coriander, and remaining stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook 5 minutes. Add zucchini, cover, and cook 3 minutes. Add red bell pepper, and cook uncovered for 3 minutes.
3. Fluff couscous with a fork. Pour vegetables and cooking liquid over it, mix, and serve.

Serves 6.
from The Co-Op Cookbook, by Rosemary Fifield - Fly at a Smile-Price