2.2 Vegetable Couscous
In the 1970s, we often ate couscous at an Armenian restaurant named The Yerevan. The owner, George, was Armenian; his English wife Vicky, whom he met in the NAAFI in Alexandria, was front of house. The kitchen was in the charge of his sister Aznif, and the food was exciting, mysterious and revelatory.
This vegetable couscous can also be served with grilled meat or chicken, merguez sausages or grilled fish. I make a spicy sauce to pour over it — which I like properly spicy — but you can adjust the heat to your own preference.
If you have any of the vegetable stew left over, use it to make a tasty soup. Liquidise the vegetables and broth then chop up any of the leftover meat or fish, add it to the soup and freeze until needed. When you want to use it, defrost the soup in a pan and add some stock to thin it down. Add a tin of drained chickpeas and a little cooked vermicelli, and garnish each bowl with chopped, fresh coriander.
- For the stew
- 1 large aubergine, cut into 5 cm cubes
- 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
- 1 swede, peeled and cut into 5 cm cubes
- 4 sticks of celery cut into 5 cm pieces
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 5 cm pieces
- 1 large leek, sliced into 5 cm pieces
- 1 red and 1 green pepper, cut into 5 cm squares
- 4 tomatoes, quartered
- 150 g green beans
- 2 medium courgettes, sliced 2 cm thick
- 2 tablespoons of ras el hanout spice mix
- 1 teaspoon of spicy harissa (add more to taste)
- ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes, dissolved in 750 ml of boiling water
- Olive oil for frying
- Salt and black pepper
- For the couscous
- 750 ml boiling water
- 500 g medium couscous
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 x 400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon each of chopped fresh coriander, parsley and mint
- For the spicy sauce
- 3 – 4 ladles of broth from the vegetable stew
- 2 tablespoons of tomato purée
- ½ teaspoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon of harissa, more (or less) if you prefer
- Salt to taste
To make the stew
- In a big saucepan, fry the aubergine in a little olive oil until it begins to brown and is almost cooked through. Remove to a dish and place to one side.
- Pour some more olive oil into the pan and add the other vegetables, except for the green beans and the courgettes. Fry over a high heat until they show small patches of colour. Add the stock.
- Add all of the spices and the garlic. Mix well.
- Add the fried aubergine, the green beans and the courgettes, then continue to simmer very gently until the beans and courgettes are tender.
- Make the couscous as per the packet, adding the salt, olive oil (and the chickpeas if using).
To make the spicy sauce
- Put the 3 – 4 ladles of stock from the vegetables into a saucepan, add the tomato purée, the sugar, the pomegranate syrup and the harissa to taste. Season with salt, simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Fluff up the couscous with a fork and, if you wish, add the chopped fresh herbs and mix well.
- Spoon some couscous onto each plate, make a well in the centre and ladle on the vegetable stew.
- Add the meat, fish, chicken or sausages if you’re serving them, and pass round the spicy sauce.
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