Thursday, 12 March 2009
a couscous comeback
I have been a bad blogger. I apologise, but I am staging a comeback. Thanks to those who remembered that I had a blog and kept pushing me to update it (Jo and Dannii) and to Vanessa whose fabulous blog inspired me to return.
Why haven't I been writing? Well, in the past eight months I've gone off cooking and Blondini and I have been eating nothing but takeaways and ready meals. And then pigs flew and the Pope became a druid. Really, it's because it turns out that blogging is one of those things that is really enjoyable but once stopped is hard to restart. I kept thinking: that would be interesting to write about, I'll do it later, but obviously later never came. And then of course there were the photos that I constantly felt guilty about not taking and not uploading, because I felt that a food blog needed to have lots of pictures of the food I'd been making (which it does). But maybe sometimes I'll have to do it without pictures, because I just can't always be bothered.
So, something foodie....
Well, last night I discovered couscous. I had known of couscous, of course, but I just didn't really get couscous before, and I now know that this was because I, and probably most people in this country, didn't know how to make couscous. Blondini makes it for lunch quite often, with sardines or tuna or mackerel and vegetables, and he had made it for me as a side dish on a couple of occasions but although I generally love everything he makes, I just didn't really love the couscous. It was a bit tasteless (apart from the bit where he'd put an enormous quantity of cayenne, cumin and salt and not stirred it in - that bit had too much taste) and kind of lumpy and stodgy. But then about a month ago we went out for dinner to a Moroccan restaurant and I had couscous and it was delicious. So I did some googling around, and found out that although in this country couscous is considered to be a kind of instant food - just pour on some hot water and let it stand - in North Africa it is anything but instant. I am not talking about the laborious process of actually making couscous, the rolling of the semolina and so on, but of the actual cooking itself.
According to google, the first thing I needed was a couscousiere. This appears to be an enormous pot whose sole purpose is, yes, couscous cooking, and since we don't have the largest kitchen on the planet, nor did I even know if I liked couscous yet, I decided, in an uncharacteristic move, not to go out and immediately purchase a couscousiere. Instead, I discovered that you can fashion a makeshift couscousiere out of an ordinary saucepan, a sieve and some foil.
Weigh out the couscous. Apparently you want approximately 60 grams of dry couscous per person. I made 200g for 3 generous portions.
Put the couscous in a shallow but quite large bowl. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in water - use approximately 15ml water for every 50g couscous. Pour the water onto the couscous and stir in with your fingers, rubbing to separate the grain and break up lumps. When the couscous has soaked all the water, stir in approximately a teaspooon of olive oil.
Pour boiling water into the saucepan and put the sieve on top. Choose a saucepan that your sieve fits snugly on top off - the point is to avoid any steam escaping around the sides of the sieve but to allow as much surface area of the sieve to have contact with the steam rising from the pot as possible. It is also important that the water does not reach the sieve, so pour out some of the water if necessary. Fit foil around the sieve and saucepan to close off any gaps, and then put the couscous in the sieve. Cover with the saucepan lid, and simmer the water for about 20 minutes.
Tip the couscous back into the bowl and sprinkle with more water - the same amount as you used before. Add another teaspoon of olive oil and stir well with a wooden spoon. Let it soak up and fluff up. You can leave the couscous at this stage until 10-15 minutes before you are ready to eat it.
Put the couscous back into the sieve and repeat Step 2 for another 10-15 minutes. Serve your delicious, fluffy and light couscous with anything you like! We had it with a simple chicken tagine of my own invention - caramelised onions and preserved lemons.