Couscous at Downtown Abbey

In spite of the brief presence of the Turkish attaché, I’m pretty sure there was no couscous at Downton Abbey. But at Downtown, by special request of the new parents, I repeated the welcome-home-from-the-hospital meal the new mom’s family prepared.

Earlier in the week, in the middle of a snowstorm, the mother of my young friend took me to Anchorage’s mid-winter farmer’s market – in the hall of a mall filled with department stores. It’s a treat to find local food in Anchorage mid-winter – carrots, beets, potatoes, parsnips, and pumpkin brought from the Matanuska Valley where they grew last summer. Also local eggs and honey.

The link to the original recipe “Roasted Vegetable Couscous with Chickpeas and Onion-Pine Nut Topping,” is here, but I worked from a printed copy with notes by the mom of the new mom. The recipe uses available storage vegetables – just what we need in February. It calls for roasted carrots, sweet potato, and parsnips. (We substituted little fingerling potatoes from the market and added beets.)

The unique taste of this dish comes from the Ras el Hanout – a spice blend full of cumin, ginger, cinnamon, saffron threads, and more (this mixture is a link within the recipe link). This meal uses only a quarter teaspoon of the mix, but the Ras el Hanout amounts make enough for sharing or for using another time.

The new mom’s mother made improvements on the recipe: she used whole wheat couscous, roasted more vegetables including beets, and put the spice mix not on the roasted vegetables, but in the couscous after cooking. (From her notes, I also learned about “Better than Bullion,” a vegetable base which made a flavorful vegetable broth for cooking the couscous.)

I followed the recipe directions and cut most vegetables small, but the carrots large, then roasted them all in a 450° oven till tender. You sauté a yellow onion sliced into quarter-inch thick slices for the onion-pine nut topping, and add a quarter cup each of pine nuts and raisins, a teaspoon of cinnamon and tablespoon of honey.

I made this between my opportunities with Lady Baby – so just before serving we pulled it all together by warming the vegetables and the topping in the oven, and cooking the couscous. (So simple – bring the broth to a boil, add couscous, stir, remove from heat and let stand before adding the chickpeas).

The mound of couscous surrounded by vegetables and topped by onions and pine nuts looks and tastes a festive, robust dish. Another suggestion by the new mom’s mom was to serve this with an orange, banana, and date salad – the perfect lively accompaniment to the roasted vegetables.

A great feast on a snowy Sunday!

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