Friday, 8 June 2012

Moghrabiyeh (Lebanese couscous)

Change. Who doesn’t like it? I love changes. Well, that’s when it comes to food, clothes etc.  And when it comes to food, I don’t like cooking or eating the same food over and over again. For that reason, what cook completely depends on my mood and my craving. Spending a major chunk of my life in the Emirates, I have a soft corner for anything Arabic. I often get cravings for Arabic food, especially the street food like the popular shawarma, falafel or anything that smells Arabic. While I was in the college, there were quite a few Lebanese restaurants and bakeries nearby where I and my friends often fetch Lebanese pizza, the popular shawarma and Lebanese sweets during our intervals. I go to those places and get something every time I visit my parents. Nostalgic. Looking back, those were one of the best days of my life, full of life in spite of my college being overly strict with lot of security guards to watch the students.

I am blessed with a few libraries here where I get to borrow brilliant books anytime. On my last visit, I picked up a Lebanese cook book from the library which is just fabulous. I am planning to keep the book for a while so that I can try out few recipes from it. It’s got loads of fantastic recipes, mostly savouries and some sweet dishes. Sweets are very tempting for me to try, but I am holding the temptation back as I would be the one to gulp down most of them. The book is a haven for fabulous Lebanese recipes. 

 f/5.6, ISO 100 , Shutter speed - 1/13 s - Manual shoot

I am also sending this post to Aparna’s second photography Exercise - Less is more. In this exercise, she asks to shoot the picture with minimal props. I think that’s such a brilliant idea as I myself had felt that I ruin the importance of the subject at times by overcrowding the picture with props. I like a well composed pictures with props used neatly rather than the attention being drawn completely on the props. Now, that sounds like me. I almost always give more importance to the props that use, than really considering the subject of interest. So, this time I decided to keep it to the minimal side and I am not sure if I am happy with these set of picture I took as it looks a bit too plain for my taste and needs a bit of practice to shoot them simple. I will try shooting another set before the deadline.

  f/5.6, ISO 100,  Exposure time - 1/13 s - Shot in Manual Mode

Here is a couscous that I tried from the book this week and couldn’t wait to share. I have modified the recipe slightly my mixing it with couple of other couscous recipe I had in hand. Couscous is something that is really easy to prepare, but I had trouble getting it right, just because I din’t know how to deal with it. It is a really quick to prepare, where you can modify it according to your palette and make a whole meal with less time, especially when someone fancies coming home unannounced. You can easily make this a vegetarian version omitting the chicken and stock and adding more vegetables. Many recipes I came across calls for using stock for cooking couscous. Here I have used plain water for cooking couscous as I have tried using stock out of readymade stock cubes and it wasn’t appealing at all. But preparing a fresh stock and using it as a dressing was quite a nice way to round up the whole dish. Although couscous is mostly associated with the culinary cultures of North Africa, it is also enjoyed in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, where is it called Moghrabiyeh, meaning ‘from the Maghreb’.

Moghrabiyeh (Lebanese couscous)
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: less than an hour
Adapted from: Lebanese Food and Cooking by Ghillie Basan

2 cups couscous, rinsed and drained
2 cups boiling water
2 tbsp ghee or 2 tbsp olive oil with a knob of butter
1 large onion, 125, finely chopped
1 large carrot, 100g, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp raisins
2 tsp baharat / Arabic spice mix
a handful of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to season

For the stock:
650g chicken , skin on
1 large onion chopped
3 cups boiling water
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
4 cardamoms
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp salt or as required
pepper powder as required

1. Place the chicken in a deep pan with other ingredients and cover with water. Bring the water to boil, reduce the heat and simmer until chicken is tender.

2. Transfer chicken to a plate. Strain the stock and return it to the pan. Boil over high heat to reduce the stock.

3. Remove and discard the skin from chicken and tear the flesh into thin strips or cut into bite size chunks. Cover and keep warm. You may season it pepper powder and salt.

4. Meanwhile, heat ghee or olive oil and butter in a heavy saucepan. Throw in onion, garlic and finely diced carrot.  Sauté until the vegetables go soft.

5. Add spice mix and half the chopped coriander and stir for few seconds.

6. Stir in the couscous and sauté for a minute.

7. Add boiling water and salt. Bring it to boil, then turn the heat off, cover the pan and let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes, so that couscous absorbs all water. Fluff it up using a fork to avoid any clumps forming. Keep covered for further few minutes.

8. Turn the couscous on to a warm serving plate and arrange the chicken on top. Spoon some reduced stock over chicken to moisten it.

9. Garnish with remaining coriander leaves and pour the remaining stock in a bowl for spooning over individual portions.

1. The shredded chicken in the recipe is quite bland, you can season it the way you like or stir fry it using your own blend of spices.

2. I made my own blend of Arabic spices many a months ago but you can use any store bought spice mix, or use ½ tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp chilli powder, ½ tsp cumin powder.
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