Monday, February 16, 2009

Light comfort food, part three: Roasted vegetable couscous

I've never cooked Moroccan food before and that's what this dish is. It has three parts - the base of couscous and chickpeas, a mix of roasted and spiced vegetables served alongside, and a topping of sauteed onions, raisins, and pine nuts mixed with honey and cinnamon. I think this mix of sweet and savoury is typical of Moroccan food, and it's a nice combo I think.

I started by making the spice mix known as Ras el Hanout. The Arabic name apparently translates into "head" or "top of the shop." And it apparently has many variations. You can buy it at specialty food stores or, if you have a well-stocked pantry, make it up yourself. Since I already had all the spices on hand I opted for the latter. Here's the recipe for that:

Ras el Hanout

2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground red pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1/2 tsp ground clovs
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Yield: 1/4 cup.

Courtesy Cooking Light, Jan.-Feb. 2009

After I'd made the spice mix I chopped up the veggies (sweet potato, parsnip, and carrot) and mixed them in a large bowl with a teaspoon of the spice mixture and a bit of olive oil. I spread the veg on a baking sheet and roasted them at 450F for about half an hour, 40 minutes, until they were tender, stirring midway through.

At the same time I prepared the couscous and chickpeas, and toward the end sauteed the onions, raisins and pine nuts for the topping. It was all very easy to assemble at the end and the flavours were subtle but exotic. The couscous and chickpeas were really there as a base to support the more flavourful vegetables and onion topping. It was a nicely balanced dish, definitely more sweet than savoury if you consider the sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnip all bring a sweetness when roasted, as does the sauteed onion. The raisins and honey add more sweetness, although not in a cloying way. Also, I think I'd do an additional drizzle of good quality olive oil over the whole thing before serving. I realize this adds more fat, but it's a good fat!

Here's the recipe:

Roasted Vegetable Couscous with Chickpeas and Onion-Pine Nut Topping

5 cups diced peeled sweet potato (about 1.5 lbs)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled parsnips (about 10 oz)
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Ras el Hanout
3 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 2 inch pieces (about 9 oz)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cups organic vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained


1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, cut into 1/4 inch-thick slices, separated into rings
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 450F.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt. Place potato mixture on a baking sheet. Bake at 450F for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in couscous and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; gently stir in chickpeas. Keep warm.

To prepare topping, heat 1 tbsp oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 12 minutes or until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add pine nuts and raisins; cook 2 minutes. Stir in cinnamon; cook 30 seconds. Stir in honey, and remove from heat.

Mound couscous on a plate or dish. Place the roasted vegetables around or on top of couscous. Spoon topping over everything and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

Calories: 520
Fat: 13.7g (sat 1.5g, mono 7.4g, poly 3.8g)
Protein: 11.7g
Carb: 90.5g
Fiber: 13.9g
Chol: 0mg
Iron: 3.5mg
Sodium: 688mg
Calc: 135mg

Recipe courtesy Cooking Light, Jan.-Feb. 2009



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