If you want to make a Moroccan laugh, tell them how we make cous cous in the US. While at our cooking class today, I told this to our chef Oeffa (sp?), and she laughed and laughed. Today we learned the proper way to make cous cous, among other things.
Fatima came to collect us this morning from the riad, and we spent the next 1.5 hours walking from one end of Fes to the other, shopping for ingredients. In the souk (market), we bought lamb, veggies (zucchini, eggplant, tomato, pumpkin, carrots, turnips, onions, cauliflower), chickpeas, olives, eggs, cous cous, raisins, oranges, and bread. For all this, which made a meal for at least 10 people, it was less than $15. With our haul of fresh food, we headed for the kitchen at Riad Dar Chrifa, on the outskirts of the Medina.
Typically, a Moroccan meal consists of 3 courses:
- soup (harira) or cold cooked salad, or a selection of salads
- tajine or couscous, with meat and/or vegetables, maybe fish (although we haven’t yet had fish)
- dessert of fresh fruit or little pastries
Today for lunch, we made:
- garlic, tomato, eggplant “salad” (we would call it a dip)
- cauliflower with eggs
- cous cous with lamb, vegetables (chickpeas, pumpkin, zucchini, carrots, turnips), and a sweet onion, raisin, and cinnamon chutney on top
- oranges with cinnamon and sugar
As far as I can tell, a Moroccan kitchen differs from an American one in a few ways:
- Oeffa’s kitchen did not have an oven, and I think most Moroccan cooking is done on the stove.
- Her stove had 5 burners, like the one in our riad.
- In both kitchens, a small pressure cooker is put to good use daily
- There is a special pot that is used for cous cous – a deep metal pot for the veggies, and a smaller – but still deep – metal steamer that fits on top.
It was this last difference that intrigued us the most. We knew that cous cous was cooked by steaming it, but we couldn’t fathom what it was steamed IN. The steamers we use for vegetables in the US aren’t deep enough, and the holes are too big. When we saw this pot, we all said, “Ahaaaaa!”
Isa was amazed by the cous cous pot.
I asked what the pot was called, and they said it didn’t have a name. I said, “Is it called a cous cous pot?” and they said no. This is when I told them how we made cous cous in the US, and Oeffa laughed and laughed. Silly Americans, you boil your cous cous! Ha ha.
Cous cous is a pasta – it is simply hand-rolled flour and water. Cooking cous cous properly requires several steps. First you rinse the cous cous, then drain the water. This step alone increases the volume of the cous cous significantly. Then, you add a little olive oil to the cous cous and distribute it evenly throughout. (Think like cutting butter into flour when making biscuits – the goal is to coat every little granule with a little bit of fat, but not to make clumps.) And never, never press down on the cous cous, lest it congeal or form clumps.
Then, you put the cous cous into the steamer, and set it over the pot on the stove, which has already been cooking with your vegetables and a good amount of water. Let it steam for about 15 minutes at a good boil, then remove.
Add, little by little, several cups of cold water into the steaming cous cous, stirring the cous cous with your hands, lifting and dropping and letting it sift through your fingers. The cous cous will absorb all the water – I think this is the 2nd “steaming”. Add salt. Then put the cous cous back in the steamer basket, and steam again over the vegetables, “until it’s done.” At one point Oeffa removed the steamer basket and put it back, and she did stir the cous cous a little with the handle of the spoon.
Then comes the layering – a bed of cous cous, the meat in the middle, vegetables around, chutney on top, and the broth and juices in a bowl alongside.
The platter was so heavy, Keith had to carry it out, and it seemed to us it could have fed at least 10 people. Typically, Moroccans make cous cous on Fridays, and they make a meal big enough to feed the whole family and anyone who drops in.
To go bags are not a thing in Morocco, and they did not even have aluminum foil, but we were not about to let all this delicious food go to waste. Through an ingenious combination of water bottles and plastic bags, we managed to pack up enough food to bring back for a picnic dinner, which Sarah is currently laying out in our courtyard. We will have a Moroccan picnic of sorts, the perfect end to our final day in Fes.