Seven Vegetable Couscous

This vegetable couscous is one of the most ubiquitous dishes in Morocco and neighboring countries of north Africa. It's both sweet and savory, and fragrant of spices that characterize the region: ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and mint. There are hundreds of regional and seasonal variations, but the number of vegetables is always seven.

Apparently the number seven is considered lucky in Morocco. The most common explanation I've found is that there are seven heavens in the Islamic faith. The number comes up frequently in religious ritual and texts--There are seven verses in the first chapter of the Qur'an, for example, and during the Hajj, pilgrims walk around the Kaaba of Mecca seven times.

The stew portion of the dish is typically cooked in a cone-shaped clay pot called a tagine. If you have any other sort of clay pot, use it! It enhances the flavor tremendously. A piece of chicken, lamb or beef is usually added for richness, but it's also delicious without it.

Seven Vegetable Couscous

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1lb of chicken legs and thighs, beef or lamb on the bone (optional)

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

6 cloves of garlic, diced

2 tbsp diced ginger

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 cinnamon sticks

cayenne and black pepper to taste

4 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 lb. cooked chickpeas 

2 1/2 quarts of chicken or vegetable stock

4 small waxy potatoes, quartered

5 large carrots, cut in half lengthwise, and again horizotally

2 - 3 small yams, cut horizontally, then cut into quarters

1/2 medium head of cauliflower, broken into florets

2 medium zucchini, cut in half, then quartered

1/4 cup small black raisins

1/2  bunch of cilantro, chopped

1 abundant handful of fresh mint sprigs, chopped

2 cups dry couscous, preferably whole wheat

Serves 6 to 8.

  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a stock pot on medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and saute another minute. Finally, add the dry spices and cinnamon sticks.
  • Add this point add the tomatoes. Once they've release a good amount of liquid, add the chicken, beef or lamb, if using. Also add the chickpeas at this time, and give everything a good stir.
  • Once the tomatoes have begun to dissolve, and the meat is almost cooked, add the stock or water. Put a lid on the pot and turn the heat up to high
  • Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and add the potatoes and carrots.
  • A couple of minutes later, add the sweet potatoes and raisins.
  • Once the yams are beginning to soften, add the cauliflower and zucchini.
  • When all of the vegetables have been sufficiently cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro and mint. You may wish to add more olive oil or salt at this time.

As for the actual couscous, instant seems to work just fine for most people. Serve the stew on top of the couscous in a mound, as you would a curry. If you're gluten sensitive, you can use quinoa or another grain.

A Moroccan woman sells mint in the streets of Chefchaouen.