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Couscous with Winter Vegetables Recipe

Course: Main Course
Total Time: Under 2 Hours
Skill Level: Moderate
Cost: Moderate
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Couscous with Winter Vegetables

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This dish of golden vegetables served with two sauces over a mound of delicate couscous is more of a production than most of the recipes in this book, but not impossible if you’re organized. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare the vegetables and get them started; the sauces can be made while they are cooking, and the instant variety of couscous can be cooked just before you’re ready to eat. It’s a dish for a special occasion or a party. Peas aren’t winter vegetables, of course, but they lend a bright note to the stew, and I always include them.

I like to serve this with both the traditional spicy red harissa sauce and a green sauce of cilantro and chili. The green sauce has a fresh, sharp taste and makes a lively contrast to the rich subtleties and sweetness of the vegetables. The red sauce can be made from a commercial harissa or the red chili paste.

I have called for the quick-cooking variety of couscous because it’s less complicated to cook and because it’s what’s most readily available. If you wish to cook couscous the traditional way, by steaming it, look at Paula Wolfert’s definitive book on Moroccan cooking, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, for detailed instructions.

Before you begin to cook, gather all the spices together and cut the vegetables as suggested. Cut the thick ends of the carrots and parsnips in halves or quarters so all of the pieces are approximately the same size. Very small carrots can be left whole. If you are using canned chick-peas, drain off the liquid and give the peas a quick rinse.

Yield: Makes 4 generous servings


The spices:

  • 2 large pinches of saffron threads
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 3-inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt

The vegetables:

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted or clarified butter (see Notes)
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into ½-inch wedges and then halved
  • 2 (½ pound) small turnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch wedges
  • 6 medium-sized or 12 small (½ pound) carrots, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 3 medium-sized parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • ½ pound winter squash such as banana or butternut, cut into chunks or cubes about 1½ inches long
  • 1 to 1½ cups cooked chick-peas
  • 1/3 cup black raisins
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, and finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 cups water or broth from the chick-peas (unless canned)
  • 1 cup fresh peas, shelled, or frozen

The red sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste, or red chili paste
  • 1 cup broth from the vegetables
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

The couscous:

  • 2½ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups instant couscous


Warm the butter in a wide, heavy pot or casserole, add the onion, and cook over medium heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the saffron, ground spices, and cinnamon stick. Lightly salt and cook for another 3 minutes or until the onions have begun to soften, stirring occasionally. The onions should be exceedingly aromatic and golden.

Add the turnips, carrots, parsnips, squash, chick-peas, raisins, jalapeño, cilantro, and parsley. Give the mixture another stir to combine; then add the broth (or water if beans were canned). Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are nearly tender. Add the peas and cook until everything is done, another 5 minutes or so. Taste for salt. (You can cook the vegetables ahead of time, up to the point of adding the peas, and then finish them just before serving.)

Make the cilantro salsa and the red sauce below and cook the couscous.

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Break up the paste with a spoon or whisk, boil vigorously for a minute, and remove from the heat.

Bring the water to a boil, add the salt, and stir in the couscous. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Lightly fluff the grains with a fork and pile them into a mound in the middle of a shallow, round platter. Serve the vegetables over the top and serve the sauces on the side.


Clarified Butter: When butter is melted, the milk solids separate and can be removed. This process accentuates the “buttery” taste and renders it suitable for frying since there are no longer any milk solids to burn. Because the taste is more concentrated, clarified butter can be mixed with a neutral oil, so you can use less saturated fat while keeping the buttery taste.

© 1990 Deborah Madison

Editor's Note

Nutritional information includes 1/8 teaspoon of added salt per serving, 1 cup of cooked chickpeas, and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Nutritional information does not include cilantro salsa or red chili paste. For nutritional information on cilantro salsa and red chili paste, please follow the links above.


Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

627kcal (31%)
167mg (17%)
73mg (122%)
889mcg RAE (30%)
15mg (5%)
924mg (38%)
4g (22%)
11g (18%)
4mg (23%)

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