Vegetable Couscous (Couscous aux Légumes)

Vegetable Couscous (Couscous aux Légumes)

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Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4 Serves 4 to 6.
Couscous is a legacy of France¿s North African colonial period, and today it is thoroughly integrated into the culture. Couscous restaurants are especially numerous in Paris but can be found in other urban centers as well. Many traiteurs sell ready-to-eat couscous, and on market or fair days in cities and villages, it is not unusual to see couscous being cooked and sold from stands.

Couscous refers to both a tiny semolina pasta and the dish. After it is cooked (either plumped in hot liquid or steamed), the couscous is garnished with vegetables and some of the aromatic broth in which they were cooked. Harissa, a spicy sauce made of chilies, is usually served alongside, and meat can be added as well.


For the harissa:

  • 6 oz. small dried red chilies, such as árbol or
      bird’s eye
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbs. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

For the vegetables:

  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 small dried red chilies, such as árbol or bird’s
      eye, seeded and crumbled
  • 2 Tbs. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. saffron threads
  • 8 small new potatoes, unpeeled, halved
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup shelled English peas

For the couscous:

  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups couscous
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 cup minced fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon


To make the harissa, in a mortar, crush the chilies, including their seeds, into fine pieces with a pestle. Add the garlic, cumin, salt and 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Continue to crush until a paste forms. Gradually work in the remaining olive oil to form a medium-thick sauce. (This can also be accomplished in a blender.) Set aside.

To prepare the vegetables, in a deep, heavy sauté pan or fry pan over medium heat, combine the butter and olive oil. When the butter foams, add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the chilies, turmeric, cumin, thyme, salt, pepper and saffron. Add the potatoes, cauliflower and carrots and turn them gently in the butter mixture for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are almost tender when pierced, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the peas, cover and cook until the peas and potatoes are tender, 5 to 7 minutes more. Remove from the heat and keep covered.

To prepare the couscous, in a large bowl, combine the boiling water, couscous, butter and salt. Let stand until the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Turn the couscous into a fine-mesh sieve and press gently with the back of a spoon to remove excess water. Transfer to a bowl and, using a fork or your fingertips, gently fluff the couscous to separate the grains.

Just before serving, spoon 1 to 2 Tbs. of the hot broth from the vegetables into the harissa and stir to mix. Transfer to a small serving bowl.

To serve, heap the couscous into a serving bowl, spoon a little of the broth and a few vegetables over it and sprinkle with a little of the mint, chives and tarragon. Accompany with the remaining vegetables and broth, the bowl of harissa and the remaining fresh herbs for diners to add as desired.
Serves 4 to 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring France, by Georgeanne Brennan (Time-Life Books, 1999).
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