With the overindulgence of the holiday season now a bloated memory, and the necessary detox diets in full effect, we've rustled up a hearty and healthy recipe to help you through the punishing abstinences of January. Inspired by Abdellatif Kechiche's 2007 family drama Couscous (La graine et le mulet), here's our recipe for a traditional North African dish; fish couscous, the perfect accompaniment to the film and the Curzon12: Soul Food collection.
Slimane and Karima's fish couscous recipe from Couscous (2007)
2 large or 4 medium mullets (1.2-1.5 kg total), cleaned, scaled and cut in big chunks (or any other white fish you like)
500 gr fine couscous
2 lt warm water
2 garlic cloves
150 gr dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
300 gr pumpkin
2 green peppers
2 teaspoons harissa
4 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon caraway
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
Twist of black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Note: for a quicker and easier preparation, you can use pre-cooked couscous, following the instructions on the package, and tinned boiled chickpeas, adding them in the last 5 minutes of cooking of the vegetables.
Traditionally, couscous is cooked in a special pot called couscoussière that consists of a large double boiler with small holes in the bottom of the upper portion and a lid, but you can also use a mesh colander with fine holes that fits within a deep pot and its lid.
Mortar and pestle (or spice grinder/mixer)
Large serving dish
1. Prepare the marinade (chermoula) for the fish: in a mortar (or spice grinder/mixer), mix to a paste 1 clove of garlic and half of the spices and harissa with a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of oil. Spread the paste thoroughly on all sides of the fish chunks. Let it marinate in a cool place for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. For the couscous: place the semolina in a large bowl, add 1 teaspoon of oil and small quantities of lukewarm water a little at a time to wet it. Work the couscous with your fingers to distribute moisture and form a little balls, breaking up any big clumps. Let it rest a few minutes.
3. Clean and peel the vegetables (except courgettes and peppers). Chop onions into thick slices; dice courgettes (in quarters), potatoes and carrots (in half or quarters, depending on their size) and pumpkin into large chunks roughly the same size as the other vegetables. Chop the peppers in half and discard seeds. Finely chop the garlic cloves.
4. Prepare the couscous sauce: heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a large deep pot (or couscoussiere) and cook the peppers for 2-3 minutes; drain from the oil and set aside. Add the onions and let them fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes or so until tender (careful not to burn them), then add the garlic (finely chopped) plus the remaining spices and harissa. Cook them, stirring continuously, until they are fragrant, for 2-3 minutes.
5. Add chickpeas, carrots and tomato paste to the pot. Cover with 2 litres of water and bring to a boil. Once the chickpeas are halfway cooked (should be 20-30 mins) gently add the fish chunks into the pot. Place couscous in the upper portion of the steamer and cover with a lid.
6. Let the fish chunks poach until cooked (this should be about 10-15 minutes depending on size). The couscous will be steamed on top of the sauce at the same time. If you want to give the fish a roasted taste and appearance, you can sear the pieces in a pan with a drizzle of oil before poaching it into the sauce.
7. After 10-15mins remove couscous from the steamer and pour it back into the large bowl. Sprinkle a little cold water on it and work it with your fingers so that it doesn’t stick together (pay attention because it’s very hot, it’s very useful to wet your hands with very cold water during the process).
8. Carefully remove the chunks of fish from the sauce, paying attention as not to break them. Set aside on a plate and cover to keep them warm.
9. Add the remaining vegetables to the broth, add hot water if necessary for steaming and adjust the seasoning with salt as required. Put the couscous back into the steamer and cover with the lid to cook the vegetables and couscous for another 15-20 minutes.
10. Arrange the cooked couscous into the serving plate, pour on top 2 ladles of the broth and let it rest for 7-8 minutes, then mix with a fork to fluff it and break any clumps. Complete and decorate with hot vegetables, chickpeas, fish and peppers. Serve the remaining couscous sauce/broth separately, so everyone can add more to taste.
By Diletta Poggiali
Diletta Poggiali is a professional chef and food writer based in Bologna, Italy. After studying at the University of Bologna (MA History and Culture of Food; BA Foreign Languages and Literature) she trained in many kitchens across the world - from Bologna and Florence to Miami, Spain and France. Born into a family with roots in Argentina, Liguria and Romagna, Diletta combines her knowledge of the flavours, techniques and cultures of the world in her unique approach to cooking. She is one of the authors of the revised edition of The Silver Spoon (the Bible of Italian cooking) and a regular contributor to various magazines and publications with a particular interest in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Her first book of soups and broths from the world (Una minestra al giorno) was published in January 2017. Diletta is a film, literature and music lover and has created many dishes inspired by Pedro Almodovar, Ang Lee, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien and many more.