Jake Tilson's A Tale of 12 Kitchens is one of my absolute favorites. I know I've mentioned it before, but it's just really fun to read. This dinner was based on something of his: a simple vegetable stew over fluffy, buttery couscous served with grilled meat. Perfect for cold weather nights. My spices were a little different than what Mr. Tilson uses--I didn't have any saffron and was too lazy to go procure it, but you should use about 10 threads, soaked in water, if you want to do it up right. Above is my spice dump: 1 stick cinnamon, 4 cloves of garlic, smashed, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 tiny pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and smashed. Cut up 3 small zucchini, 3 small potatoes and 3 small carrots into more or less equal sizes. Also tie a bundle of parsley (so you can easily fish it out later). Not pictured: a similar looking bunch of cilantro, tied up in the same way. Chop two small onions and saute in olive oil over medium heat until they're soft. Add in 2 healthy teaspoons cumin to the hot oil because it brings out the flavor so well. Add in your spice dump and the carrots, saute for another 3 minutes or so. Then add 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, plus about the same amount of tomato puree. And your parsley sprig! And, um, the cilantro too. Hopefully you won't forget it, like some people. Add one can of drained and rinsed chickpeas and the rest of your cut up veggies. Cover with water and allow to simmer for about 30-40 minutes. While that's happening, you can prepare your couscous. This is a traditional method that results in ultra-fluffy couscous and is really easy to do. Get 2 cups of couscous and place in a large bowl with a couple pinches of salt. Jake Tilson adds saffron threads here as well, but I think we've covered my negligence in that department already. Pour over boiling water until it just covers the couscous--little grains should barely break the surface. Let it sit for 20 minutes and don't stir it or touch it or talk to it or anything.
After 20 minutes, it will have absorbed all the water and it looks like a solid mass. One big couscous. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a big pan over medium-low heat... And use a fork to gently scrape the couscous, layer by layer, off into the butter pan. Separate the couscous and get it heated through by gently stirring it around with a flat spoon of some kind. It's completely meditative.Couscous is served with grilled meats of some kind--lamb, fish or sausages, usually. We had flank steak, but I think sausages sound pretty good for this too. Heap up your fluffy, warmed couscous in a big pile on a dish and encircle it with golden raisins--they add a lovely sweetness to each bite. I tossed them around first in the grill pan, after I'd removed the steak to get them warm and plumped up. Phil called it "instant chutney."
Your vegetable stew should be saucy and deliciously aromatic by now...
Serve the stew atop a pile of couscous, with yummy grilled tidbits on the side. And a nice bottle of red wine doesn't hurt either--especially if it's one that you thought had already been drunk and then, mysteriously, there it is somehow in your cabinet. Surprise!