in 2006 i had the pleasure of visiting morocco with my family. it was one of the most exciting and exotic trips i’ve ever taken, filled with an incredible range of sights, sounds, and smells. we visited one of the world’s largest mosques in casablanca, the intense and exhilarating souks of fez and marrakech, and a beautiful guest house in the atlas mountains, where you can find fresh, cool air only an hour from the desert-like landscape below.
of course the food was a highlight of the trip. delicious vegetable salads, citrus juices, flaky pies filled with poultry and eggs, and an endless range of tagines — the savory stews stuffed with meats, veggies, dried fruits, spices, or any and all of the above. we ate all of these dishes and more for a week, often accompanied by some impressive belly dancing. but no trip to morocco would be complete without towering plates of couscous, the delicate grains enhanced by veggies, meats, legumes, and a rich and savory broth.
with summer turning quickly into fall here in the u.s., i decided that a moroccan-inspired couscous would be the perfect way to use summer’s vibrant harvest in a warm and satisfying way. in vermont during the first half of the labor day weekend, i picked up some beautiful zucchini, a bright red pepper, and a handful of soft and sugary plum tomatoes. back in new york, i flipped through some of my kitchen standbys and found a recipe in the joy of cooking for couscous with zucchini and cherry tomatoes. it calls for quick-cooking couscous, which comes out fluffy and hearty with an absolute minimum of effort. with this as a base, i tossed in some homemade veggie stock i had saved and a can of chickpeas from the pantry. i also swirled in some spices along the lines of ras el hanout, the standard and spectacular moroccan mix. the result was a comforting and healthy dish that will put you in the mood for a ride on the marrakech express!
vegetable and chickpea couscous with moroccan spices
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable stock (or stock of your choice), warmed
3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch thick half-moons
1 red/orange/yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch squares
2 tsp dried herbes de provence
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking couscous (i prefer whole grain)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 large plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch squares
salt and pepper
for ras el hanout
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, ground allspice, ground nutmeg, ground cardamom, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric, ground coriander, ground cloves, and ground red pepper flakes (if you don’t have all the spices, just add whatever you have!)
1. for the ras el hanout, mix all ingredients in a small bowl.
2. heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large dutch oven or pot over medium heat. saute the onions, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, 6-8 minutes. add garlic and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes.
3. add the warm stock, stir in the ras el hanout, then add the zucchini. bring to a brisk simmer and cook, partially covered, for 3 minutes. add the peppers and simmer for another 4 minutes. do not let the vegetables get fully tender.
4. turn off the heat. stir in the couscous, chickpeas, herbes de provence, and 1 tbsp olive oil. mix all ingredients well in the pot. cover and let stand 8-10 minutes, until the stock is absorbed (or a bit sooner if you like a brothier dish). everything will be perfectly tender.
5. stir in the tomatoes and serve immediately, with a drizzle of olive oil if you like. add salt and pepper to taste.