Before he left us prematurely to preventable chronic illness, my father always loved growing food. It was his favorite hobby and the acre or two he was taking care of kept him passionate and busy. You would need to have spent time growing food and look after plants to know how great this feels.
To top the fun of growing food, on Sundays he would go to the farmers market and sell his fresh produce. It was mostly to meet his friends there, chit-chat, make all sorts of dirty jokes in a subtly coded language I was far too young to decipher, had coffee and biscuits with his buddies…Typical, good old-fashioned Sunday morning in a quaint French farmer’s market.
He always got very busy for that on Saturdays and would sit all day in the garage, washing greens, washing potatoes, making bunches of mint, parsley and coriander…Being my dad, he’d take any opportunity to ask us to help him out. After spending so much time alone with his veggies, he just wanted the company really. And anyone who knew my dad knows he was quite particular about the way he wanted things done exactly his way whenever someone joined in to help. Learning the fine art of making perfect coriander bunches or of washing spring onions without damaging them, wasn’t really the most exciting weekend activity for the kids we were.
So…haha…my younger brother and I perfected the skill of avoiding any opportunity that our father would see us without much to do while he’s preparing produce. That is so funny now that I think about it. When leaving the house to join our friends on Saturday, we took every way possible except walk in front of the garage, where he was doing his thing.
We went sideways alongside our neighbours walls, used a weird backway, even went across our neighbour’s back garden (yes, we were brats). Any of that was worth avoiding our fun Saturday being buzzed by “Where are you going? Why don’t you come and help me?”.
When we were teenagers, what was appealing to us was 1) time spent with the buddies 2) PlayStation 3) girls. Smelling of coriander and onions ranked very low in our list of priorities.
We did always make up for that though. When he came back from the market, exhausted from the day before and waking up at 4 a.m., there was a house tradition. We didn’t always do good at helping him prepare the produce I reckon, but we did a kick-ass job at giving him a break when he came back. He was our Sunday king, a rather sleepy one but we pampered him.
He honked when he arrived at home from the market. We took over and did irreproachably the last thing he’d want to do on tired Sunday. We emptied his car from all his heavy market gear, vacuumed it, turned that onion and mint-smelling vehicle into something presentable again, like the family car it was! Occasionally I’d find accidentally sprouted coriander seeds in the most improbable corners either inside the car, or brace yourself…inside the side mirror. When I was done with all that, I took the unsold produce to distribute it to our neighbours. And when that was done, it was time for Sunday couscous!
Back in the day, we had a few bad habits around our meals, watching TV during meals was one. The other one was drinking processed fruit juices and sodas at family meals (unfortunately common in North-African cultures) besides of course the processed foods we didn’t even know were processed, and oil, salt and sugar…the bad habits in virtually every household at the time I’m writing this.
But back to TV, it must be emphasized that TV didn’t make people as silly and anxious then as it does today. We had McGyver back then 🙂 I never liked the TV being on during meals and thought it was distracting from talking to each other…well…unless what was on TV would be really good, you know, like McGyver! Tata-tata-tata-tata taaaaaa, taaa-taa-taaaaa….But it wasn’t quite McGyver that played in France every Sunday around 1 p.m.
What played every Sunday when my father came back from the market, was a show my dad found to be the best relief possible after so much work, along with a delicious couscous…and that was…
Walker Couscous Ranger !
He loved that show like nobody’s business! See…generally he wasn’t too expressive at home, but that show did to him what certain songs do to me, and that is reveal the inner 5-year-old within ourselves!
Oh my God! You should have seen his face and how ecstatic my father got when he saw the bad guys finally get their ass kicked with a good dose of signature roundhouse kicks. Wappaaa! That’s it, that was his thing. And we would just watch along, eat, and smile or laugh whenever he got excited at Walker’s and Trivette’s slow-motion roundhouse kicks.
Anyway, so that was couscous experience for me growing up. Family times, often watching Walker Couscous Ranger.
- 440 g of wholemeal couscous grain (3 cups)
- 2 onions (150 g)
- 4 carrots (350 g)
- 2 small tomatoes (200 g)
- 2 courgettes, medium-sized (400g)
- 1 bell pepper (90 g)
- 1 swede or 2 turnips
- 250 g of (a sweet flavourful) pumpkin
- 1 small coriander bunch (~5 twigs)
- 1 small parsley bunch (~5 twigs)
- 400g of button mushrooms
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp ground hot chili (to taste)
- Steaming pot
- 5L cooking pot
- Peel and cut the onions in strips
- Water-fry the onions on sligthly-less-than-medium heat (no oil!). Keep on eye on it and add small amounts of water when it's dry so it doesn't burn.
- Meanwhile, let's steam the couscous grains: Set some water to boil in a steamer pot. Put the couscous in a large flat container and spread it flat. Sprinkle slightly the less than a cup of water (200 mL). For a few minutes, gently stir and mix with your hands to incorporate the moisture into the couscous grains and break down lumps. It should be evenly fluffy and moist but not sticky.
- Put the hydrated couscous grain in a leak-free steamer pot, cover on top with a clean cloth, and let steam a first round of 15 mins. When that is over you'll take out the steamed couscous, flatten it again, hydrate it again like above with the same amount of water (use a spoon or ladle to not burn your hands, unless you're my mom and fire-proof hands) and put it back to steam. In total you will have hydrated the grain 3 times, and each hydration will be followed by 15 minutse of steaming on medium heat. In summary: (hydrate + steam) times 3. At the end, pour the grain out of the steaming pot and fluff it up to let it cool down and prevent sticking.
- Empty the pumpkin of its seeds and clean it. Leave the skin on, and cut the pumpkin in smaller bits about the size of a fist.
- Halve the carrots along their length, then in two or three to get finger-sized sticks
- Using a kitchen wire, make a bouquet garni with the parsley and coriander. Set aside.
- Peel the courgettes along their length, create an alternating pattern of strips: peeled, unpeeled, peeled, unpeeled, etc. Cut in thumb-thick slices. Set aside.
- Cut the bell peppers in 2 or 4 and empty them of theirs seeds. Set aside.
- Peel and cut the swedes (or turnips) in large wedges.
- When the onions are browned, add hot water, all the spices. Stir well. Then in this order stack the veggies in the pot. Bottom to top: pumpkin, carrots, swedes (or turnips), tomatoes courgettes, bell peppers, mushrooms, bouquet garni of coriander and parsley.
- Serve the couscous grain first, then top the center of the plate with the all the different vegetables as intact as possible. Then finish with as much sauce as you like. Just keep some sauce aside, because you always have some people loving their couscous grain extra-soaked.
- Never mix the couscous grain with the sauce. Store the couscous grain in a closed container to prevent it from drying/hardening. Sauce and couscous grain should store in the fridge for up to a week. You can freeze both if needed.