Ultimate (very tasty) Winter (autumn) Couscous (couscous)

Scus-scus was one of Dominic’s ‘big hits’ when he was little, but I don’t make it as often as I used to.   I tend to do that with grains – I go through bulgar wheat spells,  couscous moments and quinoa crazes (feel a bit bad about that one now for environmental reasons so need to read up a bit more before I go back to it).   After about 5 rice based meals in a row, I dug out Plenty, the Yotam Ottolenghi book I love dearly in search of something new for our repetoire.

Usually couscous is a fridge-fallout affair.  Whatever is left in the bottom, plus some frozen peas, and a bunch of herbs and spices go in.  In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever actually followed a recipe involving couscous before.

lots of stuff
lots of stuff

The ingredient list is long, but most of it (for me anyway) is store cupboard, and whatever isn’t is replaceable/omitable. My amendments are in brackets beside the ingredients.  As ever, most of the recipes from the book can be found on The Guardian website.

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

8 shallots, peeled (I have onions, so I’ll use 2 smallish ones thanks)

2 cinnamon sticks (hmm. Some ground cinnamon will do)

4 star anise (not on my watch)

3 bay leaves

5 tbsp olive oil

1½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp chilli flakes

300g squash, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks (cleaned weight)

100g unsulphured dried apricots, roughly chopped

200g chickpeas

350ml water (or chickpea liquid)

170g couscous

1 big pinch saffron fronds (not right now dudes, haven’t got any)

260ml vegetable stock

20g butter, cut into small pieces

25g harissa

25g preserved lemon, finely chopped (the lemons in the fruit bowl were there at least 2 weeks, do they count?)

1 handful picked coriander leaves (stirred in some of that stuff in a tube)

halfway there
halfway there

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the carrots, parsnips and shallots into a large, oven-proof dish, add the cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, four tablespoons of oil, half a teaspoon of salt and all the spices, and mix. Roast for 15 minutes, then add the squash, stir and roast for 35 minutes more, by which time the vegetables should have softened but retained their bite. Add the apricots, chickpeas and liquid, then return to the oven for 10 minutes, until hot.

Around 15 minutes before the vegetables will be ready, put the couscous in a heatproof bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, the saffron and half a teaspoon of salt. Boil the stock, pour over the couscous and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 10 minutes, then add the butter and fluff up with a fork until it melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.

To serve, fill the base of a deep plate with couscous. Stir the harissa and lemon into the vegetables, taste, adjust the seasoning and spoon on to the centre of the couscous. Garnish with lots of coriander.

I will say if you and your family are not used to harissa paste – proceed with caution in its use.  I tested it, and ended up halving the dish, and only adding  a small bit to half and the prescribed amount to me & the husband’s half.  I did leave in the paprika and chilli flakes – the boys seem well able.  As ever, I stirred in some creme fraiche to cool down any over-spiciness for them.  And lets face it to make the couscous/floor interface slightly less overwhelming to clean up afterwards.  That stuff clumps tiny foodstuffs nicely!

It’s a lovely warm-the-cockles-of-your-heart dish.  The sticky couscous adheres to a spoon nicely, and a toddler gaining cutlery skills can stab a roasted bit of butternut squash with a fork like a pro.  It’s not difficult, but does take a bit of time, so I recommend it on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  You’ve got time, but would rather be snuggling on the sofa with your kids than being stressed in the kitchen.  This recipe makes a mountain, so there’s monday’s lunch sorted too!

As a side note, can I also point out, dried apricots are the bee knees for a kids snack.  They’re a little bit of work for a toddler, so if you have the very dry rather than semi dry ones soak them for a bit before you give them for a snack.  I found the Tesco Wholefoods range ones grand to give straight to them.  And a nearly 4 year old thinks he’s eating sweets so win-win!


Psst! Know where you can get cheap coconut water?


Warning. May contain coconut water.
  • Take a corkscrew to the coconut holey bit. Stick a chopstick or similar into the hole and wheegie (it’s a word) it about to make a bigger hole.
  • Decant contents into a drinking receptacle through a sieve (repeat a couple of times if you like).   This coconut yielded about 200mls compared to that Vita Coco carton which has 330ml and sells for about €2.50-€3.  It’s gorgeous, potassium-packed and super hydrating, but I can’t afford it frankly.
  • Add a straw and fight over it with your 15 month old. (I’m so mature)
  • Congratulate self on many euros saved, and enjoy rest of delicious coconut flesh.   If anyone has any recipes for fresh coconut they’d like to share please do!

I also have it on good authority that Lidl will have coconuts for a mere 49c next week.

Surprise. There’s spinach on your window.


I was musing to myself earlier, as some spinach flew past my ear, I should really share the good *and* the bad more often.  Oh you hear all about my wonderful childrens eating habits, eschewing primary coloured yogurt pots for the natural stuff and  chomping down on chickpeas instead of chicken nuggets.  Just there on tuesday they both ate fajitas – salsa, guacamole – the whole shebang, Dominic’s all nicely wrapped, as in the above picture, Theo’s in its constituent parts.  Tonight, my spinach pasties rebranded as ‘green parcels’, did not go well.  Despite spanakopita usually going down a treat.

The meal plan said Thursday:  Puff Pastry Surprise.  This was a weak attempt at meal planning in fairness, I chalked it up there knowing full well that meant frozen pastry taken out this morning with whatever veg were still standing (but not walking on their own yet) that evening.  First mistake – we didn’t actually have puff pastry, only shortcrust.  That’ll do.  So I grated courgette, defrosted and patted dry some spinach and sauteed the two with some garlic.  I grated a good hunk of cheddar in, mixed the whole lot with an egg, grated nutmeg, and a bunch of herbs. Then I divided it into Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear & Baby Bear style portions on the pastry sheet.  I folded each piece over, glazed with egg  & stuck them in the oven.  Job done.

“Mammy what’s for dinner?”

“Er…Green Parcels!” I exclaim.

“I don’t li…” (thinks, what is she talking about?) “…ke them things I want eggy”

“Oh love there’s eggy in Green Parcels” (If I keep capitalising it, it’ll become a real thing.)

(Considerably calmer) “I just want the eggy then okaaayy?”

I pause 2 seconds, which these days elicits a swift “Yes or No? Mammy! Yes or No?” before I have time to think or rationalise or say maybe and I say “Yes”.

Now,  you try extracting molecules of egg from between the strands of grated courgette and mushed spinach encased in pastry.  Oh yeah, and he didn’t want the  ‘parcel’ opened for me to do this.  I haven’t been a mother long enough to learn how to perform keyhole surgery on pies. So I didn’t. And he ate a good bit of pastry and some green went in too. Some tears occurred at the injustice and yes, the spinach got on the window.

So I sit down to write this and discover through my fab Irish Parenting Bloggers group that Kate‘s kids ate squid for lunch today.  In school.  Okay maybe they did mistake it for pasta and weren’t super pleased.   But what I will say is that they only recently moved to Spain, where this and chickpea stew, and pork chops are on their school menu in the upcoming weeks.   The message I take from my and from her experience, is: Y’know what? Sometimes our kids will refuse stuff, and former favourites will be thrown back at you.  But keep offering, because though my bigger boy loves ham way too much he also knows his way around a lentil.  Don’t let your kid dictate your family meals, there’s no way they’ll starve. Variety is the spice of life.  Don’t sweat the small stuff. All those things.