Casablanca style Couscous with Seven Vegetables is my favorite variation of Moroccan couscous, especially when topped with a caramelized onion and raisin garnish called tfaya. A much-loved comfort food, many families serve it weekly for Friday lunch, when they’ll gather round a large communal dish like the one shown above.
Couscous with Seven Vegetables is also referred to as Couscous Bidaoui, in reference to the Arabic name for Casablanca, where the version of the dish originated. The recipe here is as authentic as it gets. Meat or chicken is stewed with a variety of vegetables in ample broth generously seasoned with ginger, pepper and turmeric. Ideally the stewing is done in the base of a couscoussier while the couscous grains steam above.
If at all possible, avoid the temptation of using instant couscous. The traditional steaming method is the way to go for light, fluffy couscous that’s perfect for absorbing the dish’s flavorful broth.
And, don’t be misled by the number in the name; more or fewer vegetables may end up in a particular cook’s version of couscous with seven vegetables. For example, in the fall we might add sweet potatoes to the mix—so good!—and some mothers may insist on adding regular potatoes for younger children. In the winter and spring, fresh fava beans are a popular addition or replacement for chickpeas, and while in season, cardoons and bottle gourds might end up in the pot as well.
You can omit the meat for a vegetarian version, but do try to include the full variety of vegetables, even ones you don’t like very much. They all work together to provide rich, unique flavor to the sauce. And who knows, you may just find that veggies you normally avoid actually taste quite nice when stewed this way.
This popular variation of Moroccan couscous features a variety of fresh vegetables stewed alongside lamb, beef or chicken. You can omit the meat for a vegetarian version; see the recipe notes.
For authentic results, the couscous should be steamed three times over the simmering broth. It doesn't add much time to your active prep work, but you will need a couscoussier or other large pot fitted with a steam basket. In a pinch, you can use instant couscous, but the texture won't be the same.
Dried chickpeas are preferred over canned. Remember to soak them overnight. They and other vegetables are added to the broth in increments, based on how long they take to cook.
- 2.2 lb. dry couscous (not instant; I prefer medium caliber)
- 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
- 6 cups water, divided
- 2 to 3 tsp salt (added after 1st steaming)
- 2 tbsp soft butter (added after final steaming)
- 2.2 lb. lamb or beef, large pieces on the bone (or 1 large whole chicken)
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 fresh tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp ginger
- 1 tbsp pepper
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 handful parsley and cilantro sprigs, tied into a bouquet
- 2 tsp smen - Moroccan preserved butter (optional; reserve until end of cooking)
- 1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
- 1 small head of cabbage, cut in half or quartered
- 3 or 4 medium turnips, peeled and cut in half
- 8 to 10 carrots, peeled (cut in half lengthwise if large)
- 1 or 2 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered
- 1 or 2 small onions, cut in half (can use some whole fresh pearl onions instead)
- 1 small acorn squash, quartered (or wedge of pumpkin)
- 4 or 5 small zucchini, ends trimmed (or 8-ball round, cut in half)
- 2 or 3 chili peppers or jalapeños (simmer in a little broth or steam until tender)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen fava beans (add with 2nd steaming)
- 2 or 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in half (add with 3rd steaming)
- 1 bottle gourd, peeled, cleaned and cut into large pieces (add with 3rd steaming)
Soak the dried chickpeas in a large bowl of water overnight. (Or, use a quick soak method: boil the dried chickpeas for 4 or 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave them to soak for an hour.)
Wash and prep your vegetables. Start making the tfaya (optional; see Recipe Notes).
Set up an area to work with the couscous. In Morocco we use a gsaa (very wide, shallow serving and mixing dish), but another very large wide vessel or bowl can work. Have oil, water, salt, and butter out and ready. Lightly oil the steamer basket of a couscoussier.
Brown the meat or chicken with the oil, onion, tomatoes and spices in the base of a couscoussier over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, uncovered and stirring frequently, for about 10 to 15 minutes, until a very thick and rich sauce begins to form.
Add the soaked, drained chickpeas along with the parsley/cilantro bouquet and about 3 quarts (or liters) of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes
Drizzle 1/4 cup of oil over the couscous. Toss and roll the couscous around between your hands for a minute to distribute the oil evenly and break up any balls or clumps.
Add 1 cup of water and work it into the couscous in the same way--tossing and rubbing the couscous until all is well blended and there are no clumps.
Transfer the couscous to a lightly oiled steamer basket, taking care not to compress the grains in the process. Place the basket on the couscoussier and steam for 15 to 20 minutes, timing from when the steam first appears over the couscous.
Turn the couscous back into your gsaa or bowl. Allow it to cool briefly, then work in 1 cup of water, using the same tossing and turning as you did before. (You may need to use a wooden spoon if the couscous is too hot, but move to using your hands when it has cooled enough.)
Add the salt in the same manner, then add in another 1 cup of water. Toss and roll and rub the couscous with your hands for a good minute or two, again making sure there are no balls.
Transfer the couscous back to the steamer basket, again taking care not to compress or pack the grains.
Add the cabbage, onions, tomatoes (and fava beans, if using) to the couscous pot, then place the couscous basket on the couscoussier. Steam for 15 to 20 minutes, timing from when you first see steam emerge from the couscous.
Turn the steamed couscous out into your gssaa or bowl.
Add the turnips and carrots to the pot; cover and allow them to cook for 15 minutes while you work with the couscous.
In increments, work 2 to 3 cups of water into the couscous in the same manner as before--tossing and turning and rubbing the grains between your hands and making sure there are no clumps. Use only as much water as needed to make the couscous al dente.
Taste the couscous for salt and add a little more if desired. Transfer half of the couscous to the steamer basket, again being careful not to pack the grains.
Add the remaining vegetables to the pot--the squash or pumpkin, the zucchini and the sweet potatoes if using. Top with a little water if the level has dropped below the vegetables. Taste and adjust seasoning--it should be well flavored, a bit salty and peppery.
Place the couscous basket back on the pot and cook until steam begins to emerge from the couscous. Gently add the remaining couscous to the basket and continue cooking. Once you see steam rise from the couscous, allow it to steam for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until light and fluffy and the latest additions of vegetables have cooked.
Turn the couscous out into your bowl and work in the butter.
Add the smen (if using) to the broth in the pot and swirl to incorporate.
Work about 1 cup of broth into the couscous, tossing as you did before. Arrange the couscous into a large, shallow mound in your gsaa or on a deep serving platter. Make a large indentation in the middle to hold the meat.
Retrieve the meat from the pot and place in the center of the couscous. Top it with the cabbage and squash or pumpkin. Retrieve the other vegetables from the broth with a slotted spoon and arrange all around meat (in pyramid fashion, if you like). Garnish with the chickpeas (and/or fava beans), chili peppers and even the bouquet of parsley if you like.
Drizzle several cups of broth carefully over the couscous. Offer the remaining broth in bowls on the side.
Tfaya is optional and can be used as a garnish or served on the side.
- If you are using chicken, be sure to remove it from the pot once it is cooked. Check after the first steaming of couscous. Free-range chickens may or may not require the entire cooking time.
- You can reheat chicken for serving by adding it the pot for a few minutes at the very end of cooking, but I prefer to brown it in a 425° F (220° C) oven.
- In our house, it's all about the broth. I often increase seasoning and water by half to ensure that we have ample broth for serving on the side. You don't need to do that, but do be sure to top off the water and check seasoning from time to time while cooking.
- Dried chickpeas are preferred over canned. If you do use canned, drain and add them to the broth at the very end of cooking, after the final steaming of couscous. No need to simmer; they'll heat through while your're busy assembling the couscous for serving.
- A note about carrots. Many Moroccans insist on cutting them in half lengthwise to remove the core. I prefer not to do that unless the core is dry and woody. If you do take this step, the carrots will cook faster than if they contain the core and/or are left whole, so you may want to adjust when you add them to the pot. I'll leave small and medium carrots whole, for example, but I'll cut very large carrots in half.
- Steaming couscous is the only way couscous is made in Morocco. Be sure no steam is escaping between the steamer basket and pot. If it is, loosely wrap a long piece of folded plastic wrap over the rim of the pot and then position the steamer on top; the plastic film should create a snug seal.
- For an extra delicious steamed couscous, use milk in place of water for the final steaming.
- If you must use instant couscous, be sure to reconstitute it with broth from this recipe. Avoid making it soggy; it should be light and fluffy.
- To make a vegetarian version of couscous with seven vegetables, omit the meat or chicken in the first step of making the broth. Follow the directions as written unless you are using canned chickpeas instead of dried, soaked ones. In that case, once a thick sauce has formed from the onions and tomatoes, you can add the water and proceed directly to the first steaming.
- To make tfaya, combine all tfaya ingredients (except for the orange flower water) in a small pot. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the onions and raisins are tender and liquids have reduced to a thick syrup, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally, and add a small amount of water during cooking if it's needed. An optional last step is to add a little bit of orange flower water to taste. Serve warm.