Along with macro rice and their own unique style of dressing, couscous was one of the signature dishes on the lunch menu at Bennett & Luck, the much missed vegetarian restaurant near Highbury Corner. Whispers of, "Ooooh, it's couscous!" resounded up and down the queue on days when it was served. Its devotees (me included) would try to replicate it at home - with very limited success in my case. I overheard people sharing their tips about making it as they waited in line. One woman confided her secret with the staff on the counter (she'd used sundried tomato paste) as they smiled at her, half-bemused, half terrified. Unbeknownst to her, all three of them were Spanish and had little grasp of English.
Years after I stopped working in Highbury, I still tried to make couscous the Bennett & Luck way: slightly heavy on cumin and shot through with small chunks of roasted veggies like courgette, pepper, and aubergine. That was until I ate an entirely different version of the dish at a wedding held at Stave Hill Ecological Park, where I used to walk my dog. It was a game changer!
So what made it so different? It was much lighter in taste and texture. Definitely a case of "less is more". While I won't pretend that this recipe is as good as the one I ate at that wedding, I can assure you it's much easier than the Bennet & Luck style of couscous I used to make, and just as easy (and much nicer) than those packets from celebrity chefs that I've spied at my local supermarket.
Serves 3 - 4 as an accompaniment; 4 as part of a Bennett & Luck style of salad.
25g currants, raisins, or sultanas
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 a vegetable stock cube
250ml boiling water
6 - 8 dried apricots, each cut into 6 pieces
1/4 of a spring onion, finely sliced
a small amount of finely grated lemon zest
a small handful of parsley, fined chopped
a splash or two of olive oil
salt to taste
toasted flaked almonds to serve
Place the couscous and currants or sultanas (and the apricots, but only if they are the preferable, old-fashioned, tough, dried kind - not the soft, more expensive ones that seem to have taken over) in a large bowl.
Boil a kettle and make a stock with the portion of stock cube, and the cumin and coriander. As soon as it's dissolved, pour it over the couscous. Cover with a saucepan lid or some clingfilm, and let it stand for 15 minutes.
Once it's cold, start adding the other ingredients (including the soft apricots), though save the flaked almonds until you're ready to serve it. Sprinkle with a splash or two of olive oil, and stir well to combine.
Store leftovers in the fridge, reserving some flaked almonds for garnish.
Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.
Did you know?
You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series: