This authentic Moroccan couscous is a colorful dish made with perfectly cooked couscous topped with lamb, a variety of stewed veggies and a flavorful broth. My family in Morocco make it every Friday as a way to gather together and pray.
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I have to start by saying this recipe is extremely near and dear to my heart. It's one my dad was always proud to share with loved ones. A true labor of love that no one could ever recreate exactly.
Losing him last year meant losing so many opportunities to cook together, to learn from him and to capture all of the genius inside his mind.
That said, I've got my brother Ahmed to thank for helping me recreate this recipe and sharing his tricks with me and you.
It's not the exact technique my dad used, but the flavor of the broth, the perfectly fluffy couscous, and the tenderly cooked vegetables bring me right back to my Father's dinner table.
If you find yourself falling in love with Moroccan cuisine, this is a great place to continue the exploration.
If you ask any Moroccan what the nation's most popular dish is, they will likely tell you couscous. This traditional meal is served every Friday as a ritual for families to gather and pray together.
Here's what you'll need:
- olive oil
- olive oil
- lamb shank or shoulder, cut into chunks
- ground ginger
- yellow onion, diced
- carrot, cubed or half a butternut squash chopped into large chunks
- small eggplant, chopped into large chunks
- zucchini, chopped into large chunks
- turnip, parsnip, or daikon, chopped into large chunks
- parsley, minced
- cilantro, minced
- can of tomato sauce
- pepper flakes or jalapeño pepper
- canned garbanzo beans, drained
See recipe card for exact quantities.
How to Cook Perfectly Fluffy Couscous
If you've ever had couscous before you know how special the texture can be. When done correctly, each morsel feels light and airy in your mouth.
I've got a super simple trick up my sleeve to help ensure each grain of couscous will be fluffy and individually separate.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. To make your couscous, start with your water in a pot (or follow the ingredients on your packaging).
Bring the water to a boil and this is the part where our little trick comes to play:
For perfectly fluffy couscous add a drizzle of olive oil to your water before adding in the couscous and proceeding with instructions.
Next, toss in the couscous, cover and move off the burner completely. Let it sit covered for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork, covering again and setting aside.
TIP: I like using this Moroccan brand of couscous but feel free to use your favorite kind.
How to Cook the Lamb and Veggies
The vegetables in this Moroccan couscous are where all of that classic Moroccan flavor comes from.
A mixture of root veggies, onion, garbanzo beans, eggplant and more are essentially stewed together to create a lovely rich broth that marries perfectly with the fluffy couscous.
Start by browning the lamb on all sides in a large pot with some olive oil.
Next add the spices and onion and sauté until translucent before tossing in the cubed carrots and root veggies. Cover with a lid to help the veggies soften up.
Once the carrots begin to soften, toss in the zucchini, eggplant, and cabbage. Sauté for another couple minutes before adding tomato sauce, water cilantro, and parsley.
Cook over medium heat, slightly covered until all vegetables are cooked through and the lamb reaches an internal temperature of 145.
Add in the garbanzo beans and mix thoroughly, continuing to cook just until they are warm and evenly incorporated.
Serve the couscous first, then top carefully with vegetables, finally pouring the broth over the top. Garnish with minced cilantro.
It wouldn't be fair to share this recipe without sharing a little about the traditional method of preparation.
While this version I'm sharing with you today has all the authentic ingredients and spices, I did make a few adaptations to my dad's original instructions so that you don't need to buy any special tools.
In order to prepare Moroccan couscous traditionally, you need a special tool called a couscoussier.
A couscoussier is essentially two stacked pots with a steamer on top. This tool can be found all over the Medinas in Morocco and is designed specifically for this recipe.
The design of the tool allows you to cook the meat, veggies and broth on the first level while steaming the couscous to perfection on the second level. It really does result in the most fluffy, perfect couscous you will ever have.
With all that said, it's a really cool gadget but I know not everyone is able to run out and find one so I enlisted the help of my genius brother Ahmed to share his short cut.
For this quick version of Moroccan couscous, you will be set with a few good quality pots.
How Moroccans Eat Couscous
Like most Moroccan meals, couscous is traditionally served in a communal large round plate that everyone sits around to enjoy together.
It's usually accompanied by small bowls full of extra broth to pour over the couscous. Sometimes my aunt would simmer some broth in another pot on the side and add the jalapeño to it, resulting in a super spicy version of the broth for brave guests to try.
Unlike many Moroccan tajines and other dishes that are eaten with your hands, many Moroccans will enjoy it using a spoon.
Now I'm not sure if this applies to all Moroccans or just my family but I have vivid memories of my grandma and dad using their hands to combine some of the vegetables with the couscous and work it into a large, golf ball sized ball they would then pop into their mouths.
I remember being so impressed as a kid watching this happen, and swearing that the couscous tasted a million times better in golf ball form. I also remember sneaking into my grandma's kitchen to drink bowls of the broth on it's own; it was that good!
The preparation and ingredients in Moroccan couscous will vary depending on the household or restaurant you visit.
Here are a few variations you may come explore:
- Vegetarian - this dish is traditionally made with lamb or beef cooked with the vegetables... but making it vegetarian is as easy as leaving that out and proceeding with the instructions without it
- Veggies - if you can't find certain veggies listed in this recipe, feel free to swap them out for something more accessible to you and what's in season locally
- Gluten free - serve your vegetables and broth over quinoa for an easy gluten free version of this Moroccan classic
Store the vegetables and broth in one container and the couscous separately in another container in your fridge.
Enjoy as leftovers for up to 5 days.