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 V.14 No.13 | March 31 - April 6, 2005 

Bite

This recipe is by Paula Wolfort, the author of a book called Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. Wolfort got the recipe from Aziza ben Tanfous, curator of the Sidi Zitouni Museum on the island of Jerba, who learned it from her grandmother. It was published in a more recent book, Mediterranean Cooking. You probably don't have a couscous steamer at home, but feel free to use a bamboo or aluminum steamer lined with a layer of cheesecloth. It'll work almost as well.

Tunisian Couscous with Fennel, Red Peppers and Garlic

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dill and fennel (anise) leaves

1/2 cup parsley

1 handful celery leaves

1 handful carrot tops

1/2 cup scallions and leeks

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons crushed garlic

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste

2 teaspoons ground coriander or tabil

1 teaspoon ground caraway

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes, preferably Aleppo, Turkish or Near East pepper for best flavor

2 1/2 cups (about 1 pound) medium grain couscous

1 fresh green chile, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 6 parts

6 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

Instructions:

1) Wash the greens under running water. Drain and roughly chop. Wash and chop the scallions and leeks. Fill the bottom of a couscous cooker with water and bring to a boil. Fasten on the perforated top; add greens, scallions, and leeks and steam, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, uncovered. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess moisture and set aside.

2) Heat the olive oil in a 10- or 12-inch skillet and add the onion. Cook 2 to 3 minutes to soften, then add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the paste glistens. Add the crushed garlic, paprika, salt, coriander or tabil, caraway and red pepper flakes and cook slowly until the mixture is well blended. Add 1 cup water, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

3) Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir the dry couscous into the contents of the skillet and stir until well blended. Stir in the steamed greens, leeks and scallions and mix well. Fold in the green chili, red pepper and garlic cloves. Fill the bottom of the couscous cooker with water and bring to a boil. Fasten on the perforated top, add the contents of the skillet, and steam, covered, for 30 minutes.

4) Turn out the couscous onto a large, warm serving dish. Use a long fork to break up lumps; fish out the whole garlic cloves and red pepper slices, reserving them. Stir 1 cup water into the couscous, taste for seasoning, and cover with foil. Set it in a warm place for 10 minutes before serving.

5) Decorate the couscous with the red pepper slices in a star pattern and place the whole garlic cloves on top. Serve with glasses of buttermilk.

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