27 June 2011

How to Make Steamed Couscous

The proper way to make couscous, the Moroccan way, is to steam it. For those of us who grew up with the couscous in a box--and I think that's most people in the US--why would you bother with steaming when that box stuff cooks in five minutes? Well, because steamed couscous is light, ethereal, fluffy, and full of flavor. The last time I made instant couscous it came out like a clumped brick.

Steaming couscous is a bit time consuming, but it's meant to cook on top of whatever stew or tagine or other dish you have going. And as is often the case with stews, steaming the couscous is a welcome distraction as you wait for the meat to get tender in that seemingly endless 2 or 3 hours of stewing.

The basic technique is this - couscous, which is basically teeny tiny pearls of semolina pasta, is tossed with olive oil to coat. Then it is tossed with water, placed in a steamer basket (I line mine with cheesecloth because the holes are fairly large) and steamed either over water or over whatever you are cooking. You steam the couscous for about 15 minutes, then you remove it from the heat to rest, fluffing it, then you repeat the process. If you're lazy, two steamings will suffice, but thorough cooks will do as many as four steamings.

Couscous is typically served plain alongside a flavorful stew, kind of like rice alongside Chinese. One of the ideas behind steaming the couscous over the stew (besides being economical) is that the couscous absorbs some of the flavor of the stew. I like to think of steamed couscous kind of like fresh pasta: no you're not going to make it every day, but it's wonderful when you do.

Steamed Couscous

The traditional vessel for this is called a couscoussier, kind of like a double-boiler but the top vessel has a mesh bottom, however any old steamer combination of pots will do. Non-instant couscous is readily available in many grocery stores- Bob's Red Mill is one common brand, and some specialty shops carry the Mhamsa brand of hand-crafted Tunisian couscous.

1 lb couscous (not instant)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Have a steamer set up over simmering water or stew, line the steamer with cheesecloth if it has large holes. In a large bowl, rub the couscous together with the oil with your finger tips. Then toss the couscous with 1/2 cup water. Rub it together again with your fingers, you will feel it start to plump a bit. Scrape the couscous into the steamer, cover, and steam 15 minutes.
2. Place the steamed couscous back in the bowl, toss to break up clumps, and let cool for a few minutes. Now toss the couscous with 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt.
3. Steam the couscous again for another 15 minutes. Remove the couscous back to the bowl again and cool for a few minutes. Now toss the couscous with 1 to 1 1/2 cups water (depending on how done the couscous feels, you don't want to over-saturate it).
4. Steam for a final 10-15 minutes- taste for doneness. Fluff the couscous a final time, maybe add a pat of butter, and serve as desired.

23 June 2011

White Peach Crisp with Cardamom and Orange Blossom Water


We welcomed summer with a picnic in the park marked with cheap Prosecco and homemade sourdough and stinky cheese, cute babies on blankets, a game of wiffle ball, and everyone dashing home just before the thunderclouds broke. My cooking recently has been much the same - impromptu, simple, easy. Sliced summer tomatoes. A bowl of peaches. Summer squash tossed in a crust with eggs, cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Nothing measured. Crusts made by the feel of the dough, the crumbliness of butter. Ratatouille made with the end of the week's vegetables.


It makes for good eating but it certainly doesn't make for good blogging. There was one thing though - a white peach crisp. I have a thing for white peaches. They are delicate and floral, and they blush pink. They are almost too precious, but when baked they develop a bit of uumph, topped with a crumbly crust of brown sugar and accented with cardamom and orange blossom water. Those last two ingredients add an extra touch to this dish, but it would be perfectly delicious without them.


White Peach Crisp with Cardamom and Orange Blossom Water

Ripe peaches are sweet enough that I don't think they need extra sugar. You can peel the peaches with a knife or blanch them to remove the skin.

12 white peaches
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1/8 teaspoon cardamom

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1 pinch salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

1. Preheat oven to 415 F. Combine the crisp topping dry ingredients. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry blender until small crumbs form. Refrigerate crumble topping.
2. Peel and slice peaches into a bowl. Add the 3 tablespoons flour, cardamom, and orange blossom water. Toss together and place in a baking dish. Scatter the crumble over top. Bake 20 minutes, turn the temperature down to 375F and bake another 15-20 minutes, until peaches are soft and topping crisp.

08 June 2011

Two Fun Videos and Scenes from the Farmers Market

First of all, I discovered this cool video of making the Syrian pastry Ghazal al-Binat:

Ghazal al-Binat literally means the flirtation of girls (also a famous Egyptian film), and it's kind of like candy floss-- thin ethereal whipped threads that melt in your mouth-- stuffed with a sweet pistachio filling.

Check out Andrew Zimmerman tasting Syria. Okay, so the script is a little, umm, dumb-American sounding, but it's a nice intro into some of the weirder foods of Syria, and a flattering portrayal of the Syrian people (which is quite accurate!).

Also, hello, Foreign Policy has a food issue! People after my heart. I highly recommend this piece, "Eat, Drink, Protest."

In more local news, growing my own mache lettuce:

Beautiful early summer market produce:
if only my nasturtiums ever looked like this:

Happy summer everyone!

04 June 2011

An Easy Moroccan Salad

Moroccans like to make salads with oranges (think orange and artichoke salad, blood orange salad) and olive and orange salad is the most classic of them all. We may think of oranges as almost to delicate and juicy for salad, but when properly supremed or simply cut along the bias, they can be quite substantial. At its simplest this is just a salad of oranges and olives, but I like to add some slivers of red onion and perhaps a bit of diced cilantro for uumph. A nice pinch of salt is important to keep the salad on the savory side.

I used Moroccan baladi olives, which I found at a local shop. They are wrinkly and mildly flavored and taste as if they have been marinated in spices, perhaps cumin or allspice (I don't know if that's true, please chime in if you do). But any mild olive will do. The salad is light and refreshing and perfect alongside a heavier dish, like bistaeeya. It can also be used as a topping for grilled fish.

Orange and Olive Salad

3 large oranges (something with thick substantial segements)
olive oil
6-8 black olives, preferably Moroccan baladi style
2 tablespoons diced cilantro
about 1/4 of a small red onion, sliced as thinly as possible and then diced

1. Working over a bowl to collect juice, supreme the oranges, placing the segments in another bowl. Add a pinch of salt to the orange juice, then whisk in the olive oil and the red onion to make a dressing. You should use twice as much oil as you have orange juice, you can eyeball it if you don't want to measure.
2. Gently mix the diced cilantro in with the orange segments. Tear the olives into pieces with your fingers, it can be rustic looking. Arrange salad on a platter. Spoon the dressing over the salad, you will not need all the dressing. Serve salad immediately, reserve remaining dressing for another day.