Cost: minimal, really – about £2 and it serves 6-10, more if you are serving it as a side to something like Slow Roasted Lamb alongside maybe some baby spinach, grilled aubergine slices, fried halloumi with mint and lime, cucumber-yoghurt salad, and/or garlic flatbreads.
A lovely friend asked for this recipe earlier this week – which was pretty surprising, since it’s from a lunch we held about two years ago! Well, Wikipedia informs me that the first written references to couscous date from the 13th century so I suppose some things never get old. Anyway, this isn’t so much a recipe as a shortcut to an extra side dish for a non-traditional roast lunch – particularly nice in summer, I think. I always like couscous because it’s quick, easy and satisfying in a way that warm carbohydrates are, and here we combine it with a colourful confetti of roasted and fresh vegetables.
[No photo as it wouldn’t have occurred to us to take one at the time…but I bet that 13th century recipe doesn’t have one either]
“Recipe”: Jewelled Couscous
1Tbsp vegetable stock powder (I know – controversial! But I keep Marigold bouillon, also endorsed by Delia Smith, in the house as a handy instant soup base, in the same way as we use miso paste, and the ingredients are reassuringly familiar vegetables as opposed to inscrutable chemicals)
1 small butternut squash or a couple of carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
2 small onions or shallots, peeled and finely diced
2 peppers, cubed (I always like the red ones best, and I thought everyone felt the same way, but once when I’d asked my husband to buy some peppers, he came back with green ones, i.e. their underripe, bitter alter egos. “Didn’t they have red ones?” I asked – and it turned out that lacking specific colour instructions, he had puzzled over the choice for ages, eventually recalling the programme “Ready, Steady, Cook” and their red tomato/green pepper teams, from which he deduced that green was the classical option for peppers. Oh dear.)
Half a pomegranate
2-3 Tbsp currants, depending on how much you like fruit in savoury dishes
2 spring onions
small bunch coriander
Preheat the oven to 200C whilst you prepare the vegetables
1. Toss the squash/carrots, onions and peppers in a slick of oil, just enough to coat (regular cooking oil is fine, I think the flavour of fancy olive oil is a bit lost here) and roast in the oven for about 30mins until the squash/carrot is soft and the onions are sweetly translucent. If you are doing a roast at the same time, this can go in at a higher/lower temperature – just keep an eye on it and adjust the timing for 20-40 minutes.
2. In a large bowl (ideally your serving bowl), mix the couscous, vegetable stock powder and currants and add an equal weight of boiling water from the kettle (i.e. 500ml). Give everything a quick stir and cover with cling film and leave for the grains to fluff up (about 10 mins).
3. Finely chop the spring onions and coriander and mix into the cooked couscous, along with the pomegranate seeds. When the vegetables are cooked, stir these in as well. Season with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and lemon juice to taste.