Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook
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Couscous with Chicken
In North Africa, couscous is served at every festive occasion, prepared by steaming semolina grains over a stew of meat and vegetables. A tiered steamer called a couscoussiere is available in specialty shops; its holes are small enough that the couscous grains do not fall into the stew below. In lieu of a couscoussiere, one may nestle a muslin-lined colander in a stew pot, so long as the bottom of the colander does not touch the stew in the pot below. The vegetables may be varied according to taste and availability.
Soaking: Overnight
Total second-day time: 2 hours
1 cup chickpeas
2 tbsp. cooking oil
3 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. cinnamon
5 lbs. chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1 cup coarsely chopped coriander
12 cups water
4 cups carrots, cut into 1" chunks
2 cups turnips, cut into ½" slices
3 lbs. couscous
½ cup melted unsalted butter
½ cup water
2 tsp. salt

Cover the chickpeas with cold water and soak overnight. The next day, drain them, put them in a heavy pot and cover them with at least 2" of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for an hour or so, until tender. Turn off the heat, skim off the skins that have floated to the top, drain and cover with more cold water. Rub the chickpeas gently between the fingers to remove any remaining skins. Drain again and set aside.

While the chickpeas cook, heat the cooking oil over medium heat in a couscousiere or large stew pot. Add the onions and sauté until golden. Sprinkle over the spices and stir well. Add the chicken, parsley and coriander, and sauté, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Pour in the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, until the chicken is tender.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the couscous. Pour it into a large roasting pan, cover it with 10 cups of cold water, and stir well. Drain, return to the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes. Gently rub the grains between your fingers to break up any lumps; then turn the couscous into the top of the couscousiere or muslin-lined colander. Place the couscousiere top in its place, or nestle the colander in the upper part of the pot, wrapping a wet towel around the edge to prevent steam from escaping. Steam the couscous, uncovered, for a half-hour; then, remove the couscous and pour it back into the roasting pan.

By this time the chicken should be tender. Remove it from the pot and set it in a warm oven. Put in the vegetables, return to a simmer, and continue to work with the couscous.

Sprinkle the couscous with a half cup of melted butter, a half cup of cold water, and 2 teaspoons of salt, then rake it gently with your fingers, separating and fluffing up the grains. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then return it to the steamer or colander.

Before you continue steaming the couscous, stir the cooked chickpeas into the stew. Then, put the couscousiere top or colander on top of the pot, wrap the edge of the pot with a wet towel, and steam the couscous, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Taste to check the tenderness of the grains.

When the couscous is ready, turn it out into a large serving bowl and make a well in the center. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables into the center, then the chicken pieces. Drizzle a little broth over everything, and serve the rest separately, along with other seasoning sauces such as Red Pepper Sauce or Onion Raisin Sauce.