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Friday is Couscous Day-Cookin’ in Meknes!

We're liking this city!

A warm welcome to Meknes...


Skott and I took a liking to Meknes as soon as we arrived. It is a lively city, which I was eager for after several days of intense chillin’ in Chefchaouen, but still several notches calmer than it’s crazy next-door neighbour, Fes.

We arrived as the sun was setting so it worked out well that a tout caught our attention and ushered us to his “father’s” riad. We negotiated a price with the “father” which we were quite happy with and then our sleazy friend mentioned that actually, this isn’t his father, and we should pay him something small for his trouble. Ahh Morocco, every man is a businessman. We settled on my giving him a small flashlight “from Canada” that he could give his “small sister”.

The highlight of our 5 days in Meknes for me was making my first Moroccan girlfriends-Simira and Nihad. Samira spoke English so we connected easily and she did a great job of translating everything to Nihad. I was dying to learn how to cook authentic Moroccan food so the girls decided they would teach me how to make couscous.

Nihad, Me, Samira

Couscous is much more than the small yellow pellets you see in a box called “Memories of Marrakesh” in Superstore. It’s a full meal that takes about 3 hours to prepare and I learned that it is made special on Fridays-the Islamic holy day.

First things first, what exactly is couscous? Couscous on it’s own is made from semolina and it’s a wheat product. It looks like small little circles and when it comes from a certain kind of wheat, durum wheat, it looks rather yellow. It’s a staple in a lot of North African countries.

The traditional “7 vegetable” Moroccan couscous includes the following veggies:tomatoe, carrot, turnip, zucchini, potatoe, onion, butternut squash or pumpkin (my favourite part of this recipe).

I would HIGHLY encourage any of you that love cooking to take a Saturday or Sunday and give this a try. I would love to hear all about it!!

Samira’s Moroccan Couscous

The “Essential” Ingredients:
3 tomatoes
3 onions
2 medium sized zucchinis
6 carrots
1 large slice of pumpkin
2 potatoes
3-4 parsnips (which I had never used before Gavin cooked them for us in Glasgow)
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
stew beef (about the size of your fist)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4-6 cups
1 soup stock cube-vegetable or beef

Moroccan food is all about the spices and they know how to use them in amazing ways, here are the must-have’s:

1 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp curry
1 tsp pepper

Extra spices if you have them/like them:
2 pinches saffron threads (which are WAY WAY cheaper in Morocco)
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger

*You can also add garbanzo beans to this recipe. You would add them to the couscous or just heat them up separately and put them over the couscous.

Lastly, an interesting thing I learned is how the couscous gets the brilliant shade of yellow that you see that makes Moroccan food look so exotic. While it is true that the couscous has a slight yellow colour to begin with, they actually add a bright yellow powder that looks like spice but is essentially just food colouring to achieve this. I had no idea!

Ideally, you need a stockpot with a pasta insert or colander to cook this…basically the same set up you would use if you were steaming something because the base of the stew will go inside the stockpot and the actual couscous will only steam in the pasta insert or something you can put over top of the pot so that the couscous won’t fall through.

-Peel and cube the tomatoes and onions & put into the stockpot
-Tie up the cilantro into a bunch with kitchen string and add to the pot
-Place the stew beef into the middle of the pot
-Add all of the spices and all of olive and vegetable oil
-Place on a burner at medium temp and let stew for 1 hour.

-Cut the zucchini lengthwise, salt and let rest
-cut the pumpkin into large chunks. Leave the skin on.
-Cut the parsnip lengthwise in half
-Cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut out the very middle (Simira says this makes them cook through better)
-Cut the potatoe lenthwise in quarters

-Rinse the couscous by adding water to all of it and then straining the water out with a sieve.
-Add a couple of tbsp of oil to the couscous and a dash of salt.
-Use your hands to lift up bunches of couscous at a time and let it run out of your hands back into the bowl to fluff it up and let the water absorb and dry.

“In Morocco we use our hands to cook”

Add approx. 1 litre of water to the tomatoe stew mixture in the stockpot and allow to reach a soft boil.

When the tomatoe stew mixture is boiling, add the carrots, potatoes and parsnips.

Put the couscous into the pasta insert or colander and place on top of the stockpot (no lid). Leave to cook about 20-30 minutes.

Take the couscous off the stockpot. Add 2-3 cups of water and once again, using a spoon this time because it’s piping hot, stir and fluff the couscous.

Place the couscous back onto the stockpot. Add the zucchini and pumpkin into the couscous to steam cook for approx. 30-40 minutes or until the pumpkin and zucchini are cooked.

-Remove the couscous colander off the stockpot.
-Crumble the beef stock into the stew mixture on the bottom and stir in.

-Scoop out the couscous iton a shallow, wide bowl (like the bottom of a large tajine).
-Level the couscous flat.
-Place the beef in the middle of the couscous bowl.
-Arrange the other vegetables decorative lenthwise, resting on the beef and extending out to the circumference of the bowl
-Scoop up the rest of the liquid from the pot and spoon it over the couscous and vegetables.


If you are going to eat it in a true Moroccan style, you will enjoy it with a

Moroccan bread. Usually round and flat with a soft inside and crusty outside-perfect for scooping couscous or tajine.

bun that has a crustier outside and tear pieces off to use this as a spoon…

“In Morocco we eat with our hands”


Enjoy your Friday couscous and wash it down with a hot cuppa mint tea!!

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6 Responses to “Friday is Couscous Day-Cookin’ in Meknes!”

  1. Jodi October 8, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    That sounds and looks amazing. The cup of mint tea would top it off perfectly.

    • Shawna October 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Jodi!! You would like it too because you can do vegetarian versions easily! The great part about the mint teas here is that they actually use fresh mint, it’s so refreshing. Hope you have a great long weekend!!

  2. Duane October 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Thanks Shawna for the couscous recipe. Looks delicious! My wife Leta once traveled to Morroco and actually made this for me once, but she will be thrilled to have a recipe so authentic I am sure!! Complete with the fantastic pictures!

    • Shawna October 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

      Thanks Duane!! I hope she gets a chance to give this recipe a try…there’s really nothing quite like Moroccan food! Cheers & thanks for keeping up with our traveling tales : )

  3. Guy October 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Hey Shawna that looks amazing. And it’s cool that you may be using Saskatchewan duram or semolina – the best in the world! (STEP guy right)
    The pictures are striking and looks like a great place to spend TG!!

    • Shawna October 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

      Hi Dad! Yes, it was pretty tasty!! I never thought of it, but of course that’s a good point. Does SK export lentils here too because there are tons of those in the cooking as well. Have a great turkey Monday!! Love you!!

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