Simple, hearty and versatile, just like a favorite pair of jeans. The kind of jeans that you can throw on with a pair of heels for a night out or run errands in with flip-flops on. That is kind of how couscous is, except that you can eat it-which makes it even better than a good pair of jeans. It is especially delicious if you have a good friend (Amy) who showers you with fun birthday gifts from Valley Wine and Cheese. One of these wonderful gifts was a jar of hand rolled couscous from Mahjoub Family Estate in Tunisia. I agonized for weeks about what to do with these light, fluffy culinary pearls. Do I dress them with lemon oil and sea salt? What about roasted pine nuts, kalamata olives and Parmesan? Decisions, decisions but after a Saturday morning on the couch with my favorite new book, A Homemade Life, by my favorite blogger, Orangette, and Giada on in the background I decided that I would make delicate couscous cakes spiced with coriander, fresh cilantro and lemon zest. Then I would crisp them up in a little olive oil and serve it with mango chutney. If that isn’t a slice of Moroccan heaven, I don’t know what is.
I should also note that at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning I decided that I wanted to have these cakes for dinner and I wanted to serve them with an arugula, pine nut and bittersweet chocolate salad (Thank you Molly!), Gruyere profiteroles and artichokes and most importantly I wanted to serve them to guests in our backyard while the sun went down. Enter my wonderful in-laws. Number one, they are up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday too. Number 2, they love to let me experiment on them with new recipes. Number 3, they don’t mind at all that I’m serving a hodge-podge meal and most importantly, number 4 – I rely on Big Stew’s recipe breakdown at the end of a meal and after a few glasses of wine. There is nothing better than hearing your father in law tell you that the couscous was a number 2 and the profiteroles were a number 1, eating 8 of them to prove his point.
So why then am I blogging about the couscous? Because I’ve only recently discovered couscous and it has become a staple in our household. They are fun and exciting little pellets of semolina flour and can be used in a variety of dishes from appetizers all the way to dessert. Plus, my favorite way to eat profiteroles is with coffee ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce-which will save for another date.
This recipe was adapted from an episode of Giada at Home with Giada De Laurentis, It didn’t need much changing, I just upped the cilantro and coriander. You can never have too much cilantro. Feel free to experiment with this dish. The couscous is really a fantastic canvas for a variety of ingredients. Next time I think I’ll used basil, sundried tomatoes and Parmesan. Yum!
Moroccan Couscous Cakes
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes for the couscous, 15 minutes for the crisping.
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as an appetizer or side dish
2 cups cooked couscous, prepared according to package instructions and cooled
1 large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 lemon, zested
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup mild mango chutney
Cook the couscous according to the directions on the package. Cool in the freezer while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Don’t forget it though! Frozen couscous doesn’t work very well.
In a medium bowl, mix together the couscous, cilantro, egg, egg yolk, coriander, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture. Mix until combined.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Form 1/4 cupfuls of the mixture into 8 patties. Add 4 of the patties to the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes each side until golden. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining couscous mixture.
Serve the couscous cakes with mango chutney in the backyard with friends. They are the best that way