Guest post – Couscous and Tunisian sauce

Third guest post – does this mean I’m thrice as lazy? Anyway, I introduce Aajay Sankar – globetrotter, football fan, genius kid and an experimental cook who is bringing an African flavour to this blog (now I can claim this blog is global, AIMRITE?) Did I mention he lives in Paris and posts such beautiful photos on Instagram? You’re welcome!

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I have a new found love for North African cuisine, especially Tunisian. My friend has cooked for me some amazing Tunisian dishes like shakshouka, a new year Tunisian couscous, samsa, halwa and some more desserts. Couscous, similar (but a different grain) to rava (semolina) is one of my most favorite staple foods to eat. It is a very good and healthy replacement for rice and it is quite filling too (which is a must requirement for most Indians). The greatness of a couscous dish depends highly on the sauce and of course the quality of your couscous. I’ve tried many times to make a good couscous sauce and each time I end up with a sauce that is tasty but feels Indian. So this time I decided to learn to prepare a Tunisian sauce from my friend. I saw the complete preparation of it and decided to try it out myself. This recipe completely belongs to my Tunisian friend who is, in my opinion, one of the best cooks in the world and an inspiration for me to cook.  Thank you my friend.

I generally cook without any measurements (I learnt it from my mother) and here I will try my best to quantify the ingredients I added. Couscous traditionally is cooked in a two-stage vessel (quite interesting how they cook it, Wikipedia will explain it better), in a procedure similar to cooking idli or momos. It is a long and time consuming process when cooked the traditional way but it tastes great. Now, we have pre-cooked couscous that can be made easily by boiling in water for a few minutes (depending on the couscous you buy).

This sauce is prepared traditionally in Tunisia to celebrate the new year of the lunar calendar. Couscous is a dish eaten not daily, but on Sundays and special occasions in Tunisia. They have some other fantastic other dishes and I hope to visit Tunisia and taste some food there in the future.

This is a sauce for two people.

Ingredients

Olive oil – 5 to 6 tablespoons (Be generous for good taste of the sauce)
Tomatoes – 1 or 2
Tomato puree – 100 gm
Onions – 2
Garlic – 1 pod
Potatoes – 2
Bell pepper/Capsicum – 1 big
Brinjal/Egg plant – 1 big
Turnip – 1
Chick peas/Channa – a handful (already cooked)
Zucchini (if available) – 1
Dried and spicy chillies –  2 to 3 (traditionally a chilli paste called Harissa is used, which is amazing)
Chilly flakes – If dry red chillies not available
Chilli powder – 2 tsp (dependent on how spicy your chilly powder is)
Salt – To taste
Water

1couscous

Method

Mix onions, tomatoes, tomato puree, olive oil, bell peppers, garlic, chilli powder, salt, chilli flakes in a deep pan and add 1.5 to 2 cups of water. If you have Harissa, then brilliant. Add it instead of chilli flakes and chilli powder.

Boil them well until the tomatoes and onions are half cooked and the raw smell of the chilli powder goes away. Add another 2 cups of water, the potatoes (cut into two or three, preferably large size), the eggplant, zucchini and some more olive oil. Let it boil till you see the oily layer of the tomatoes when they are cooked. The only requirement of the vegetables you add is that they don’t contain a lot of water in them so that when they boil they don’t disintegrate (like broccoli does). So vegetables you add depend on your liking. If you want to add meat, you can add it at this stage (preferably chicken or lamb) but I am no expert in meat so I don’t add them here.

Add the chickpeas and let it simmer for 20 to 25 minutes (in low flame enhances the taste of the sauce). Once the sauce reduces a bit to a consistency where the sauce isn’t very thick or very thin, switch off the flame and taste for salt. A little salty is good as the couscous has no salt at all.

There must be no raw taste in the sauce and all vegetables well cooked. If yes, your sauce is ready. You will see a layer of oil on top of the sauce.

To cook couscous

I had the pre-cooked couscous so it takes only two minutes to cook them. Here in France, they sell couscous in packets where you can drop them in boiling water for 2 minutes and then its done. If it is not available you can cook couscous with a 1:1 (couscous: water) ratio since it is already cooked. Don’t overcook it. Couscous tastes the best when its al-dente.

Eating suggestion

This is quite an important part of the overall dish. If you just add the sauce directly to the couscous it doesn’t taste great and it is not done like this the traditional way. The traditional method is to take the oily part of the couscous sauce, which is on top and slowly add to the couscous using a spoon and is mixed. Add sauce to an extent where all the cousous has absorbed the sauce. The couscous must still be dry.

Now add the vegetables on top of the couscous, without the sauce. If you feel you have less sauce, you can add a little more and mix with the couscous. But remember, it is always important to have couscous as the main dish and the sauce and vegetables as supplements. You can also eat the sauce with bread which is quite tasty (French bread would make it even more awesome).

I have added some images to show how they came out. The photos aren’t great as I wasn’t really planning to post this. Thanks to Apoorva for the opportunity to post in her blog. She is a wonderful cook and I recommend you to try some of her recipes. Au Revoir and see you again with another recipe from the world in the future. Remember, anyone can cook!