Couscous

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Shabbat dinner is a simple way to preserve not only a cultural tradition but an opportunity to share stories while enjoying the company of family and friends.  In my house growing up, Shabbat meant loud music and louder people.  But most of all it meant couscous and boulettes.  Our shabbat dinners were lively and often ended in a ridiculous performance by my sister and me.  Marsha, my mother, was a consummate host.  My father, Sylvain, was the chef and made the couscous, boulettes, and all the salads.  Watching him cook these huge, elaborate dinners was quite a sight.  My mother often joked that after my father was done cooking she had to clean the kitchen from floor to ceiling.  And if my grandmother Thereze was visiting, we’d have to clean it twice!

Couscous not from a box is made in a couscousier, a type of double boiler with a steamer basket for the grain. The semolina must be steamed three times and rolled in your hands between each steaming. A two hour process and clean-up nightmare.  In my family couscous is always served with a soup or stew accompanied by boulettes and a vast array of small salads called kemia. Every family has their favorite couscous accompaniment, for my father it was a chicken and vegetable stew served with boulettes on the side. It wasn’t until I was older and moved to Israel in my late teens that I understood the work that it takes to put together a meal like this. The process is at least 2.5 solid days of work between the shopping prep and cooking time.

Now I understand why Hana, one of my aunties in Israel, was constantly peeling vegetables at any free moment she had during the week. I usually take time off when I am preparing a meal like this, but for ages my aunties have been cooking these elaborate dinners and working at the same time. There isn’t a scenario where there is no couscous on the table Friday night.

Preparing a meal like this is a meditation, its a time when I get to be alone in the kitchen making recipes that have been passed down for generations, I can feel my family with me as peel chop roast roll and wash dish after dish. The love and history that goes into this meal makes the time spent preparing it part of the experience.

When I host a Petit Takett Shabbat Dinner couscous is generally on the menu and but with vegetarian soup & boulettes on the side. Living in Los Angeles I am surrounded by vegetarians and vegans so preparing the couscous soup with just vegetables includes almost everyone.

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Cous Cous

1 lbs dried cous cous*
1/8 cup vegetable oil
water
1/2 tbs salt

Cous Cous Soup
2 yellow onions cut in 1/2 then in 1/4’s
3 large carrots cut into 3” long pieces
4 ribs of celery cut into 3” long pieces
2 turnips peeled, cut in ½ and then quartered
1/2 small head of cabbage quartered
1 fennel- cut in half then into three pieces − the long way
2 heads of flat leaf parsley- reserve some for garnish
2 heads of cilantro- reserve some for garnish
2 heads of mint- reserve some for garnish
1lb pumpkin or kobucha squash peeled and cut into 2 to 3’’ pieces
6 to 8 yellow button squash halved if large or whole if small
6 to 8 small round summer squash
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Kitchen twine
Water

*dried cous cous can be found at a middle eastern market

In the stock pot half of the couscousier heat 1.5 tbs of olive oil, then add the onions, carrots, celery, fennel, and cabbage. Add salt and pepper and combine well. Sauté for 5 minutes. Tie all of the fresh herbs together in a tight bouquet; place the bouquet in the water with the vegetables.  Turn the heat on to a med/low temperature. Meanwhile, in a long shallow bowl or plate, place the couscous, pour the 1/8 cup of vegetable oil over the top. Rub the couscous in your hands, coating all of the grains with the oil. This prevents the couscous from sticking to the pan. Then pour 1/2 cup of water over the top and rub the couscous again, coating all the grains. Break up any clumps. Take the basket out of the couscousier, place it on a large dish. Fill the basket with the couscous and place on top of the simmering soup. Let it cook uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until steam has risen for 20 minutes from the basket.

Couscousier

Rubbing the cous cous

Rubbing the cous cous

Take the basket off of the couscousier, put the cous cous back in the long shallow bowl, and let cool for 5 minutes. When cool add 1/2 tbs of salt and 1 cup of water and rub the cous cous between your hands to break up any clumps. Re fill the cous cous basket and place it back on the pot. Cook for another 20 minutes.

Remove the steamer basket for the last time. Place the cous cous back on the shallow plate and let cool for 5 minutes. When cool add 1 1/4 cups of water and rub in your hands again. Place back on the stove for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, place in a bowl covered with a damp towel until ready to eat.

Remove all of the vegetables from the pot and place on a separate plate. Discard cabbage and bouquet. Keep any vegetables that still look good and are not too soggy, and set aside.  Add 2 more quarts of liquid to the pot and the 3 different kinds of squash / pumpkin, a new bouquet of herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1 hour until vegetables are fully cooked but not over cooked.  Remove the bouquet of herbs. Put back all of the vegetables taken out and heat through. When hot get ready to serve. I fill the couscous bowls first, and then add vegetables. I add the soup last. It should have liquid in the bowl but not be too soupy. Garnish with fresh herbs. Serves 6