North African couscous has become one of my newest favorite foods in the past few years. Before, I thought the main difference between Israeli and North African couscous is the size: Israeli couscous is bigger, about the size of petite peas, and chewier, while North African is small like millet and more fluffy. I had had deli salads featuring both kinds and had decided that I like the Israeli one better.
Lo and behold, I then had the chance to eat “real” North African couscous, and my eyes (or tastebuds) were opened! When you go to an Algerian restaurant, they serve the couscous plain and on its own, similar to how you might see rice served at Asian restaurants. They also serve a separate bowl of broth and vegetables, which you pour over the couscous before eating. And the taste was out-of-this-world amazing–while being totally simple and homey!
My version of the couscous is inspired by a favorite Algerian-Parisian bistro in Williamsburg (since closed) called Bar Omar. It’s not authentic in the sense that I included the ingredients I have and use often–even replacing the actual couscous (a kind of pasta) with quinoa! But in terms of taste, I think it is very similar. Enjoy!
Vegan North African Quinoa Couscous
- 1 cup dry quinoa
- 2 1/4 cup water for quinoa
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1 1/2 cup cauliflower, chopped into florets
- 4-5 fingerling potatoes (baby Idaho recommended), diced
- 1 small carrot, diced
- 3/4 cup chickpeas, washed and drained
- 2 1/2 cup water for broth
- 2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- to taste sea salt
- to taste black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
1. Heat a glug of olive oil (about 1/2 tbsp) in a large frying pan with a lid over medium heat. Add onions when the pan is hot. Toss lightly, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook while stirring very occasionally over 20-25 minutes, until onions are brown and caramelized. You can also splash with balsamic vinegar to help with the color and add a touch of sweetness (just cook through until all vinegar is evaporated). Set aside.
2. Clean the pan reasonably (shouldn’t be too sticky at this point) and add the rest of the olive oil, and put on medium-high heat. Add potatoes, garlic, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4-5 minutes. If it starts to stick, you may de-glaze with a splash of water.
3. Add cauliflower and water. Increase heat, cover lid, and bring to boiling.
4. In the meantime, prepare tomatoes. Add tomatoes, onion powder, and chickpeas to the pan and cover the lid. After hard boiling for a few minutes, lower the heat to simmer and cook for 25 minutes. Salt generously.
5. While the broth is simmering, bring 2 1/4 cup of water to boil in a medium saucepan or a pot. Season with a little bit of olive oil and salt.
6. Add quinoa to the pot and bring to boil. Cover the lid and lower heat to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy and cooked through. Uncover lid, fluff with a fork, and season with salt as necessary.
7. Take broth off the heat. Stir in the nutritional yeast into the broth.
8. To assemble: layer quinoa couscous and the veggie broth, then top with caramelized onions, raisins, and sliced almonds. Those last 3 are not optional!! They will create a lot of flavor explosions in your mouth. Bon appétit!
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Photos: Juhea Kim