Chunky Vegetables in Tomato Broth over Couscous
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I first created this dish of Mixed Vegetables over Couscous (you can substitute couscous with rice, either brown wholegrain or white) as a quick-fix meal to use up some left-over vegetables at home. This is a vegetarian dish, although inspired by the first “real couscous” I ate in the early eighties in Morocco, where they traditionally serve a large platter of couscous with lamb and vegetable stew on top. The dish was quite moist and juicy, hence I use a mug of vegetable stock to achieve a similar result.
Preparation time under 30 minutes
The Vegetable Stew:
1, or at least ½ a large, capsicum [bell pepper in US English], red adds more flavour
1 large onion (or 2 small ones)
1 or 2 carrots (depending size)
1 small aubergine (eggplant) or zucchini
a sweet or mild chilly
some fresh green beans or mushrooms
whatever other left-over vegetables you have laying around which need using (leek, spring onion [shallot], snow pees [sugar snap], celery stick, squash, a tomato which is too soft to use in a salad or on a sandwich – we have tried most of these) – try to make it colourful in relatively even portions
[pullquote-right]I have a Garlic allergy, so I don’t use it in my recipes, but you’re welcome to add a clove to your vegetable mix.[/pullquote-right]
at least ½ tablespoon of tomato paste [tomato purée]
1 mug (~250-300 millilitres) of vegetable stock
pepper to taste (we prefer cracked pepper from a mill)
some herbs (oregano, basil, parsley, and possibly thyme, seem to work best), if you have fresh herbs use them, mostly we have access only to dried herbs.
a little under half a cup of oil, we prefer to use olive oil
Couscous for 2 people:
1 cup of couscous
1½ cups of water, basically 1.5 times the amount of couscous (but check your individual package as recommended measurements and preparation times might vary)
a tablespoon of butter
Apart from knives, cutting board, and other standard utensils, you will need a large frying pan or wok to prepare the vegetable stew, a small saucepan with a lid for the couscous, and a mug (or small pot) to prepare the stock.
Start by washing and cutting all vegetables. We like to cut ours relatively chunky, in long strips or large cubes, so that the individual flavours stand out. When you prepare the vegetables consider their different cooking times, like carrots and green beans need longer to soften than aubergine or capsicum, hence we cut carrots into smaller strips, less than half the size of our capsicum. Keep them separated on the cutting board so that you can add them one by one into the frying pan.
Tip: we believe that zucchini and aubergine taste best if they are deep fried, almost charred, as then they will have lost some of their excessive water content. Dice and fry them first, then remove from the frying pan and set them aside to add towards the end.
Now boil enough water to prepare your vegetable stock, which should be at hand before your vegetables go into the pan.
Add a good amount of oil to a frying pan, enough that the first batch of vegetables won’t soak it all up. Heat the oil and add the first vegetables, the ones which will take the longest. Toss them in the oil, and then, one by one, add the rest of your cut vegetables. Toss and fry them on high heat until they start to brown a little. Add pepper and herbs to taste; when you add your spices early the vegetables haven’t been sealed completely and will absorb more of the flavours. Next add the tomato paste, and quickly try to cover all vegetables in the pan with it.
If you cannot find tomato paste you can substitute the tomato paste with half a sachet of concentrated tomato sauce, which can be be bought almost everywhere in Latin America. (Be aware that many of these sauce sachets contain a lot of additives, some of which are artificial stiffeners – from my experience these cause sauces to burn on more quickly and/or form a skin on top.)
Let the vegetables fry a little longer, once covered in tomato paste, but make sure they don’t burn or stick on. Once they reach this point quickly add half of the vegetable stock and turn the heat down so that everything simmers gently.
Now it’s time to heat the water for your couscous. Fill a saucepan with 1½ cups of water, add 2 or 3 pinches of salt, and bring to the boil. Once the water boils remove from heat and mix in the couscous quickly with a fork. Cover with a lid and let it sit for around 4-5 minutes.
In the meantime watch your vegetables, stir them occasionally, and slowly add the remaining stock. Add enough stock so that you have a relatively runny sauce, reminiscent of a thick soup. Check that all vegetables are cooked, but still firm to bite. If your stock has simmered down too much, and you find the vegetables a tad too salty, you may add some water instead of the remaining stock.
Finally add a tablespoon of butter to the couscous, let it melt and then use a fork to fluff the couscous up, so it looks and feels grainy. Serve the couscous with the vegetables on top. Enjoy!
Additional advice: if you substitute rice for the couscous, your cooking time will be longer. I would start cooking white rice just before I start frying the first vegetables. If you use brown rice you are well advised to start cooking this before you begin to prepare the vegetables.