I make couscous frequently. It’s one of our favorite meals. It can be vegetarian or carnivorous, depending on what’s at hand. One can make bountiful substitutions and it still tastes good. In fact, every time I make it it’s a new dish. The bright colors and root-veggie goodness are fantastic pick-me-ups in the dreary PNW late-winter, like little chunks of sun we’re promised will come again.
Last year, after we bought our fixer-upper house, a cute little post-WWII cottage with great bones but needing a major face lift, I discovered that the worthless previous owners had been cooking on a stove that had caught on fire. The wires connecting the burners were frazzled and burnt. The electrician advised not using the stove, wisely, so I waited for a couple of months until we could afford to convert to gas and buy a new unit.
This was the middle of a cold winter, so, with trepidation, I bought a slow cooker for my winter stews. The crock pot was a major feature of my childhood. We had crock pot meals all year ’round, at least twice a week. Sometimes the reek of sauerkraut and kielbasa would be so bad that I’d get a headache, because there’s nothing quite like cooking sauerkraut all day long, even if you live in a large two-story house. I still associate crock pot smells with nausea. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that I actually felt a bit sick when the odor of my couscous permeated the house. Ah, le temps perdu. Proust had his madeleines, I get crock pot meals.
Anyhoo. The couscous turned out pretty well, and I’m far more sensitive now to those with compromised kitchens. For those of you who are similarly compromised, or if you just like the crock pot, the adjusted recipe follows.
I’ll have to admit that I like couscous better on my new stove, so I give notes that allow you to cook this recipe on the stove, as well. Lately, I’ve been forgoing the meat and simplifying the spices to only cinnamon, salt, red pepper flakes and cumin. We also had a version adding ground lamb and green beans that was good. See? Flexible as can be.
Slow Cookin’ Couscous Stew
Note: I usually cook this stew on the stove, so you can easily modify it for stovetop cooking by browning the beef and onions, then adding stock/water and seasonings. The root vegetables should be added after about an hour (if you’re using chuck beef) and the other vegetables near the end of cooking (about two hours or so).
2 lbs. cubed beef chuck (or pork shoulder, or lamb, or chicken thighs…)
1 large onion, chopped
Seasonings: 1 T. cinnamon, 2 t. salt, 1 t. coriander, 1/2 t. turmeric, 1 t. cumin, 1 t. allspice, 1 t. onion powder, ground pepper.
At least 3 root vegetables, 1 each, cut into largish (2-inch) chunks. I use turnip, rutabaga, yam, white potato, winter squash, leeks, carrot, parsnip. Cabbage works too, cut into 3-4 inch wedges, but it isn’t very pretty because the wedges fall apart. Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes will dissolve and make broth thicker, which is fine, but may be disappointing if you want chunks.
1 andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 can chick peas, drained
1 cup large raisins (white ones if you can get them)
3-4 dried red hot peppers
1 zucchini, cut into 2-inch long fingers
1 red pepper
1 green pepper (Retrogrouch likes these — I’d rather use roasted pasilla peppers I keep in the freezer or nothing at all)
about 4 cups chicken stock or water
In a 6-quart or larger slow cooker, layer beef, onion, seasonings, root vegetables, sausage, chick peas and raisins, in that order. Don’t mix. Add enough chicken stock or water to cover most of the vegetables (about 1/2 full?). Cook on high for first hour or so, then cook on low for 5-6 hours.
In last hour of cooking, mix in zucchini, red pepper and green pepper, plus a spoonful of harissa and some chopped preserved lemon, if you have some. Taste for salt and heat. Serve with couscous. If you want to be fancy, mix couscous with cilantro and chick peas. Makes a huge pot.