Tuesday, December 16, 2014

North African Stew with Sweet & Spicy Couscous

Before the cold New England winter appears, my husband and I like to visit to Boston Common and the Lagoon to see the swan boats. In the heart of this elegant city, an emerald-green park appears. Weeping willows, a rose garden and pretty swan boats make up the vintage scene. For more than one hundred years, the boats have been gracefully gliding on the pond. We cross the little pedestrian bridge before heading over to Newbury Street to window shop.

The orange-hued Moroccan stew is not spicy-hot, making it kid friendly too. You can also cook it ahead of time, a good choice for potluck dinners. I prepared this recipe for a coworker's birthday party at the hospital where I work. She loves sweet potatoes and doesn't like spicy food. I kept the spice level to a bare minimum. An entire large pot of stew disappeared in under twenty minutes. To his surprise, even a fried-food-loving-doctor, who claims to dislike vegetables, enjoyed a big bowl.

The stew is finished with a splash of sparkling citrus. Soups and stews often need a bit of freshness. This meal is high in satisfaction, low in fat and loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. 

If you're going to make my spicy couscous recipe, be mindful of how much spicy-heat you add to the stew to keep everything in balance. It's a nice option for a vegan/vegetarian Thanksgiving or Christmas Day dinner, along with my sweet & spicy couscous (recipe below) and a bowl of yogurt or creme fraiche. 

North African Stew Recipe 

Makes an entire large pot full

Some Notes:

The stew goes from the stove-top to the oven to finish cooking. It takes under an hour to cook, but tastes like it's quite labor intensive. It reheats well.

Garbanzo bean flour is mixed into an equal part of cold water and stirred into the stew at the end of cooking. This mixture thickens the stew, giving it a luxurious taste and texture, without adding any extra fat. I find the garbanzo bean flour in the regular grocery store. It can also be found online at Bob's Red Mill.

Ras El Hanout is a complex Moroccan spice blend. I love this brand. If you don't want to search for it, a combination of your own spices like cumin, smoked paprika, regular paprika, a little nutmeg, allspice and/or cinnamon would be good choices. Instead of the Moroccan spices, curry powder is welcome here too. 

When it's done cooking, a handful of frozen peas and some chopped dill give it a pop of freshness and color.

Serve the stew directly out of the pot with more lime and orange wedges, a bowl of thick yogurt or creme fraiche, some toasted almonds or pepitas to offer your guests. 


  • A large oven and stove top safe pot. I use my Le Creuset Dutch Oven.
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped. Your choice of color. I used one red pepper and one green pepper. 
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 diced chili pepper (optional)
  • 1 lime or orange
  • 1 cup chopped carrots. I used chopped baby carrots. 
  • 2 baking potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1/3 cup of frozen peas
  • 2  16-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • A 26.46-ounce box of Pomi chopped tomatoes or one 28 ounce can of quality canned chopped tomatoes
  • A couple of good drizzles of honey, about two tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon of ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of Moroccan ras el hanout or your choice of spices (see notes) 
  • A couple of good pinches of ground cinnamon
  • Garbanzo bean flour mixed with cold water to thicken the stew (see notes)   
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • To Serve: Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, orange or lime wedges, couscous, rice, crusty bread, diced scallions, toasted slivered almonds, parsley, dill or cilantro, lime or orange zest.  


Preheat the oven to 350

Add some olive oil to a large Dutch oven and saute the peppers, onions and carrots with a pinch of sea salt. (A diced chili pepper can be sauteed along with the rest of the vegetables for more heat.) Once the vegetables have started to soften, add the potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes, honey and spices. Pour in enough water to cover the vegetables which should be about 4 cups of water. Adjust the salt. Cover and bring to a boil. 

Take the covered pot off of the stove top and place it in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Take it out of the oven and stir the garbanzo bean flour and water mixture into the stew, a little at a time, to thicken it. I used three tablespoons of garbanzo bean flour stirred into three tablespoons of cold water. The more of this mixture you add, the thicker the stew will be. Smash some of the cooked potatoes in the pot with the back of your spoon and stir. Add the frozen peas and a couple of squeezes of lime or orange juice, stir again. Serve with any of the suggestions above and enjoy!     

Sweet and Spicy Couscous 

Serves 4

This is a lovely sweet and spicy side dish for your fall-inspired meals. The toasted nuts compliment the soft and chewy texture of the Israeli couscous. It's great alongside a chicken, turkey, salmon or my vegetarian African Stew (recipe above). If you don't like currants, use dried apricots or dried cranberries.

Ras El Hanout is a complex Moroccan/North African spice blend that works well in this recipe. I love this brand. If you don't want to search for it, a combination of your own spices like cumin, a tiny pinch of nutmeg, allspice and/or cinnamon would be good choices too.

If you don't like walnuts, use toasted slivered almonds, toasted pistachio pieces or even pepitas (pumpkin seeds).


  • 4 cups cooked Israeli couscous
  • One bunch of scallions diced, about 8
  • Generous 1/2 cup of dried currants 
  • Citrus fruit of of your choice, one lemon, orange, tangerine or meyer lemon 
  • Generous 1/2 cup of toasted walnut pieces 
  • 1 diced chili pepper. I used a Thai bird pepper which is very spicy. 
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, grated on a microplane zester
  • 2-3 tablespoons of honey
  • Couple of pinches of cinnamon
  • Couple of pinches of ras el hanout (optional, see notes)
  • Chopped parsley or herb of your choice
  • Sea salt to taste 
  • Olive oil for cooking


Cook the Israeli couscous as directed and toss with olive oil, set aside.

Meanwhile, toast the walnut pieces in a dry skillet on medium heat until fragrant, set aside. Be careful not to burn them.

In a medium skillet, saute the chili pepper in some olive oil with a pinch of sea salt until tender. Add the scallions, ginger, spices, currants, more salt and olive oil. Saute briefly to take the raw edge off the scallions but try to keep them bright green. Stir in the honey. Combine the scallion mixture with the cooked couscous. Stir in the toasted walnut pieces and a bit more olive oil. Spritz with the citrus juice of your choice and sprinkle with parsley. Serve and enjoy!

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