Couscous is originally a Berber dish and for this reason couscous is a speciality in many North African countries. In Morocco, we have different types and versions of couscous but if you mention “couscous” in Morocco, people will usually assume that you are referring to the most basic version of the famous dish: the 7 vegetables couscous.
The 7 vegetables couscous is composed of semolina grains (granules of durum wheat), topped with vegetables and meat cooked in a super tasty and comforting broth.
For a long time, I used to think that couscous was one of these difficult recipes designed only for experienced cooks, and for a long time I didn’t try to make it although I was missing it very much.
A few years ago, my university friends asked me to cook a traditional Moroccan couscous for a dinner party and… I couldn’t say no. Thanks to my mom (who gave me a very detailed recipe), my first couscous was pretty good, there were no leftovers! But I have made it countless times since that day and I have learned a lot. Hopefully you will benefit from that and you will find the recipe as simple as I do today.
The reason I love couscous is because although its cooking time is quite long, its preparation is very quick. You can get the recipe started and do many things by the time the meal is ready to be served.
Couscous is also one of those perfectly balanced and flavoursome dishes that allows you to help yourself two, three (or more?) times and never feel guilty by the end of the meal.
Enjoy, take a look at the notes and feel free to ask questions!
7 Vegetables Couscous+ Optional Tfaya sauce (caramelised onions)
Serve 4 to 6
- 1 large onion chopped (200gr)
- 600 gr slow braising beef or lamb, trimmed of excess fat. (i.e. lamb shoulder, cracked lamb shank, lamb or beef neck, beef shin). If your meat is on the bone, take into account the weight of the bone and make sure you get about 125 gr of meat per person.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 250 gr canned chickpeas in water (or 125 gr dried chickpeas soaked in cold water overnight), drained.
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Generous pinch of saffron
- 1 coriander bouquet, tied
- 2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped in 2 cm large pieces
- 1 small cabbage (600gr), quartered through the base
- 1 large sweet potato (250 gr), peeled and cut into large chunks
- 300 gr turnip, peeled and cut into 3 cm lengths
- 3 carrots (300 gr), scraped and cut into 4 cm lengths
- 200 gr courgettes cut into 5 cm lengths (not necessary for baby courgettes)
- 300 gr butternut squash or pumpkin, seeded if necessary and cut into large chunks
- 4 cups dried couscous (650 gr)
• In a large casserole (minimum 5 litres capacity), heat the olive oil over medium high heat and place the onions, the meat, the spices, salt, pepper and half of the tomatoes pieces. Turn the meat occasionally until lightly browned, about 10 min.
• Add 1.5 litres of water and the chickpeas. Bring to the boil, reduce to medium low heat and place the coriander bouquet in the casserole. Cover with a lid and let gently simmer for 50 min.
• Prepare the vegetables and set aside.
• Now is a good time to start preparing the raisins and the couscous. The raisin recipe is below and the plain couscous recipe is here. The raisins are optional but if you like sweet and savoury dishes, you will love this addition.
• Carefully discard the coriander bouquet and place the cabbage, turnip and carrots in the broth, cover the casserole with a lid and let it simmer for 35 min. Make sure the vegetables don't stay at the surface and are well inserted in the broth, otherwise they might not cook evenly.
• Add the potatoes to the broth and cover the casserole for another 20 minutes.
• Meanwhile, place some of the broth (only the liquid, about 6 tablespoons) in a separate casserole or large deep skillet, over medium heat and place the courgettes and butternut pieces. Cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes. Flip the courgettes and butternut halfway through cooking. The reason why we cook the courgettes and the butternut separately is because once cooked, they become very fragile and they might break if you cook them in the broth with the rest of the vegetables.
• At this stage, your broth and vegetables are ready to be served. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt if necessary.
• Using tongs, carefully remove the meat from the casserole and cut the meat into smaller individual pieces. To serve, place warm couscous grains in a plate and top with meat, vegetables and some tablespoons of the broth to make it moist. Add raisins (optional).
• As you can see, I used a regular casserole for this recipe as opposed to a couscousiere. In my opinion it saves a lot of time and hassle to cook the broth and the couscous grain separately and there isn’t much difference in the taste. Also, I assume that the majority if you don’t own a couscousiere, it will be too bad not to enjoy Moroccan couscous because of that.
• Keep the meat in large pieces when you place it in the casserole in the beginning of the recipe. Small pieces of meat will get even smaller after hours of slow cooking and you might struggle to find them in the broth once they are cooked. In my opinion, it’s simpler to cook large pieces of meat and cut them in individual pieces before serving.
• In Morocco, people traditionally season the couscous grains with "smen" when preparing them. Smen is a type of salted fermented butter and has a very distinctive taste. If you like it, use smen instead of olive oil when preparing the couscous grains.
• Feel free to play around with the recipe and add or use different vegetables. Moroccans traditionally use 7 vegetables because “7” is a lucky number in the Moroccan culture.
• Make sure to insert the vegetables at the right time so the meat and the vegetables will be ready at the same time. The way I calculate the cooking time for the vegetable is very simple. I assume that the meat will take about 2 hours to cook (or more for some cuts). I leave the meat to cook in the broth (with the chickpeas, onions, tomatoes…) until it is time to insert the vegetables so they will be ready at the same time as the meat. Keep in my mind that some vegetables cook faster than others.
• Use quinoa instead of couscous grains for a gluten free version of the 7 vegetables couscous. If you are on a vegetarian diet, omit the meat. If you like, spicy like me, add a teaspoon of harissa to your plate.
• You can keep the couscous grains, the broth, the meat, the vegetables and the raisins for up to 3 days in the fridge.
OPTIONAL TFAYA SAUCE (CARAMELISED ONIONS)
Serve 4 to 6
- 2 large onions (400 gr), chopped
- 400 gr dark seedless raisins, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and drained
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons honey (or sugar)
- 1 teaspoon salt
• Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat and place the onions. Cover with a lid and leave the onions until they are soft and translucent, about 10 min. This will allow sweating the onions.
• Uncover and add about 6 tablespoons of broth (liquid only), the raisins, salt, cinnamon and honey.
• Leave over low heat and let it gently caramelised, until golden brown. About 35 min. Stir occasionally to make sure the onions don’t stick to the bottom of the skillet.