Mourad Lahlou is the chef at Aziza in San Francisco, where he and his staff make fresh couscous every day.
Couscous is a Moroccan dish made by rolling semolina granules into small pellets. Unlike pasta, couscous must be steamed rather than boiled. Handmade couscous can take as much as five hours to cook.
Roasted Root Vegetable Couscous, Braised Beef Cheeks, Chickpeas, Golden Raisins, and Harissa
Yields: 4 servings
3¼ cups unsalted vegetable stock
6 strands Spanish saffron
1½ tsps salt
2 cups coarse organic semolina
2 cups regular or fine organic semolina flour
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
6 sprigs Italian parsley
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons butter
Braised Beef Cheeks with Root Vegetables:
8 saffron threads
7 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 beef cheeks, trimmed of excess fat
2½ tsps salt
1¼ tsps black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp cumin seeds, roasted and crushed
½ tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups red wine
5 tsps fresh jalapeño chili, finely chopped and seeded
1 can whole tomatoes including juice, chopped (3 cups)
¼ lb whole baby carrots, peeled
¼ lb whole baby turnips, peeled
¼ lb whole baby rutabaga, peeled
8 Cipollini onions, peeled
8 baby fennel bulbs, stemmed
For the Saffron Infusion:
Bring ½ cup of vegetable stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Heat a dry 7-inch skillet over low heat and toast saffron strands for 1 minute, then transfer to a small bowl and crumble. Combine saffron and salt with the warm vegetable stock and mix well. Cover tightly and let steep for 30 minutes, then strain the infusion and discard the saffron threads. Mix the infusion with the remaining cold stock and set aside.
For the Couscous:
Place the coarse semolina in a large earthenware dish (“ghassriya”). Sprinkle ¼ cup of saffron infusion over the semolina while moving the palm and fingers of one hand in circular motion to create tiny granules. Once the granules begin to develop, dust the semolina flour over the granules and sprinkle ½ cup of the saffron infusion alternately on the granules while still moving hand in circular motion. Continue with this process until small couscous beads develop. Use a sieve or strainer (“ghourbal”) to separate the couscous from the excess flour and uneven beads. Keep the couscous and discard the flour.
Fill the bottom unit of a couscousière halfway with water and add carrots, onion, celery and parsley, and bring to a boil. Transfer the couscous into the top unit of the couscousiere and fit tightly onto the bottom part. Steam for 20 minutes.
Transfer the steamed couscous into a large mixing bowl and break up lumps with a large wooden spoon or your fingers. Sprinkle with ½ cup of the saffron infusion and rake the grains to keep them separate. Mix in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Gradually add another cup of saffron infusion while raking the couscous. When the couscous has absorbed the entire infusion, repeat the steaming for another 20 minutes.
Return the couscous to the mixing bowl and sprinkle with another cup of the saffron infusion while working the couscous grains between your hands to separate. Bring water back to a boil, return the couscous to the couscousière, and steam 25 minutes.
Remove the couscous from the steamer and place in a mixing bowl one last time. Fluff and incorporate the butter by gently rubbing couscous between the palms of your hands without applying too much pressure as the couscous beads might adhere to one another. Keep warm until serving.
For the Braised Beef Cheeks with Root Vegetables:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Heat a dry heavy skillet over low heat and toast saffron for 1 minute, then transfer to a small dish and crumble. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 6-quart ovenproof pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. While oil is heating, pat beef cheeks dry and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Brown beef in oil, without crowding, on all sides, about 20 minutes total, and transfer with tongs to a bowl. Pour off fat from pot, then add another 2 tablespoons of oil and cook onion and garlic over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and crumbled saffron to the onion mixture and cook briefly. Deglaze with red wine and scrape up any brown bits. Increase heat to high and boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Return cheeks and their juices to the pot and add jalapeño, tomatoes with juice, 1½ teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer, then braise, covered, in middle of oven, about 2 hours. Add root vegetables. Cover and return to the oven for another hour or until cheeks and vegetable are fork tender.
To Assemble and Serve:
Transfer beef cheeks and vegetables with tongs to a platter and cover to keep warm. Boil remaining cooking liquid in skillet over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until it is reduced to a deep, thick sauce, 12-15 minutes. Return cheeks and vegetables to pot; mix and heat through. Adjust seasonings. Place warm couscous in a deep dish, place a large portion of beef cheeks on top, and ladle root vegetables and sauce over the couscous and beef cheeks.