Despite it’s various challenges, this month has long been one of my favourite times of year. Why, you ask? A plethora of reasons. On the one hand its the slower pace of life, the ease of being able to roll out of bed in the morning and get ready for work without paying any mind to what to have for breakfast or what to pack for lunch.
But in actual fact, what makes Ramadan special for me is family. My childhood is steeped with memories of suhoors where my mother would whip up a feast at 3 AM like it was no big deal, while my brother and I dragged ourselves out of bed, bleary eyed and half-asleep. Weekends spent grocery shopping, running various errands and visiting home improvement stores or plant nurseries to kill time before sunset. Breaking fast with a delicious iftar spread every day featuring some of my all-time favourite comfort foods – white rice with verimicelli, molokheya, and mahshi to name a few. Time spent late into the night playing card games with cousins and snacking on Arabic sweets.
As I got older, things changed, our family changed. My parents divorced and their relationship invariably went through various stages of tumult – but come rain or shine, we always spent Ramadan together as a family. Even if it was just a 20-minute meal and a cup of tea afterwards, for a whole month each year, I got to have my family back. Needless to say, this made the month just that much more special to me.
As some of you may know from my last post – I no longer live in Bahrain, nor do I live with my family. For the briefest of moments I considered just paying the appropriate alms and skipping Ramadan altogether this year. Adjusting to a new job and country hasn’t exactly been easy, and fasting has been especially tough on my body and health for the past couple of years. But to be honest, the idea of just erasing something that I’ve held so dearly for so long left me with a horrible sense of emptiness and inconsolably lonely. I figure that even if I can’t be with my family and friends, at the very least we can go through the month together, albeit in different countries.
Plus, what better time to create new memories and recipes in my new home?
Much like my Harira recipe, I make no claims that this couscous dish is at all authentically Moroccan. What I can tell you, is that it is a fragrantly spiced, hearty and nutritious plant-based dish that deserves to be center-stage at any iftar table.
- 2 cups dried moghrabieh (You can also use pearl or giant couscous)
- 1-2 cups of vegetable stock or water
- 1½ cups cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 6 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp harissa spice mix
- 1.5 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 2 cups small carrots, washed and trimmed
- ⅓ cup dried apricots, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup fresh coriander/cilantro, roughly chopped
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
- Start by roasting the butternut squash and carrots. Pre-heat your oven to 200 C/400 F then place the butternut squash on a non-stick sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss until all pieces are well coated and roast for 25-30 minutes until tender, stirring once halfway through. Repeat the above step with carrots, and set aside.
- In the mean time, boil the moghrabieh in a large pot of salted water for 10-15 minutes until tender, then drain and set aside.
- In a large pot or skillet, sauté the onions and garlic with 1 tbsp of olive oil for 3-5 minutes on medium heat before adding in the tomatoes, bell pepper, tomato paste and spices. Stir for 1 minute or so until fragrant.
- Add the moghrabieh, roasted vegetables, apricots and a cup of vegetable stock. Mix thoroughly and allow to simmer uncovered until all the water is absorbed.
- Stir through the remaining olive oil and adjust seasonings to taste.
- Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.
The explosion of flavours and textures in this dish is just incredible. Alongside the dried apricots, earthy roasted veggies, tart tomatoes, and tender couscous, the unique blend of spices makes this dish sweet, spicy and savoury all in one.
What I love about couscous is its versatility and ability to soak up the flavours and textures it’s cooked with. This dish manages to strike the perfect balance of being filling but not too dense or heavy. It also keeps and re-heats wonderfully – making it an ideal dish to whip up during Ramadan if you prefer not to cook daily (which I don’t).
Bring on the obligatory recipe notes:
- Moghrabieh might be hard to find outside of any ethnic food stores – but you can substitute regular or pearl couscous if you so wish. Just be conscious that you may have to increase the amount to make up for the smaller volume.
- Use whatever starchy veggies and dried fruits strike your fancy – sweet potatoes, pumpkin or other root vegetables would work just as well. For fruits you could add in raisins, sultanas or even chopped dates.
- Harissa spices or Harissa paste work equally well, so use whatever you can get your hands on.
On a different note, I do hope you’ll excuse my less than regular posting schedule given recent life-changing events. In addition to my usual posts on here I’ll also be updating various bits and pieces on social media including easy iftar and suhoor recipes, so be sure to stay connected with me there.
And finally thank you, from the bottom of my heart for all of your heartfelt messages, comments and e-mails on my last post – I can’t begin to tell you how profoundly they touched me. I’m truly blessed to have such wonderful and thoughtful readers.