Imperial Couscous (Couscous Imperial)

April 18, 2016
Beef, lamb, or chicken can be used for this couscous. This version is a cross between a recipe from Tangier and one from Fez. Algerian cooks prefer beef or chicken for their couscous, but not lamb, and sometimes beef and chicken are used together. You can also replace the meat or poultry with meatballs. On Rosh Hashanah, cooked quinces are added along with the raisins to increase the sweetness for the New Year. If served on the night before Passover, fresh favas might be added. When this same stew is served with barley couscous, the dish is called tchicha, and when served with new wheat (freekeh), it is called azenbo. In other words, if the grain changes, the name changes, too.


  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, picked over, soaked in water to cover overnight, drained, and rinsed
  • 2 pounds stewing beef (such as boneless short ribs, chuck, or brisket) or lamb (such as shoulder), cut into 2-inch pieces, or a mixture of beef or lamb and bone-in chicken pieces
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, finely crushed and steeped in 1/4 cup hot water or meat or poultry broth
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 large or 12 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 3 large or 6 small turnips, peeled and quartered or cut into 11/2-inch pieces
  • 1-pound piece winter squash, such as kabocha or butternut, peeled and cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks
  • 6 small zucchini, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • Couscous
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted (optional)
  • Honey (optional)
  • Harissa, homemade or store-bought, for serving


Serves 6 to 8

In a saucepan, combine the chickpeas with a water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Drain and reserve.

Put the meat, onions, salt, pepper, ginger, saffron, and oil in a stew pot and turn the ingredients in the oil to coat evenly. Add water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour if using beef or lamb. If you opt for a mixture of meat and chicken, add the chicken after the first 30 minutes. Add the reserved chickpeas, carrots, turnips, and winter squash and cook for 30 minutes longer. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and raisins, cover, and cook until all of the vegetables and the meat are tender, about 30 minutes longer.

Pile the couscous on a platter. Using a slotted spoon, lift the meat and vegetables from the stew pot and arrange them around the couscous, or make a well in the center of the couscous and put them in the well. Taste the pan juices and adjust the seasoning, adding a little honey if you like. Scoop out 1 cup of the pan juices and mix with harissa to taste. Spoon the remaining juices over the meat and vegetables. Serve at once and pass the harissa at the table.

Photo: Leigh Beisch

Excerpted from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home by Joyce Goldstein. Published by University of California Press.