Couscous, a staple in Middle Eastern and North African cooking, is Tasting Jerusalem’s ingredient for April. These cute little pearls of durum wheat semolina are commonly served with meat dishes, in soups, in salads or as a side dish.
A recipe I’ve been eyeing in Jerusalem is the Burnt Eggplant and Mograbieh Soup. When this past weekend turned chilly and rainy, I decided it was an ideal time to make soup. Charred eggplant is incredibly appealing to me and it’s amazing in this tomato-based soup. Mograbieh is Lebanese couscous, a larger-sized version than the tiny spheres typically seen. It’s similar to Israeli or giant couscous, which is readily available in Western markets.
Since I just pulled our barbecue out for spring it seemed the perfect place to roast the eggplants. Sue, from Couscous & Conscientiousness, made the same soup and also used a barbecue. Less messy than the oven! Plus, you can’t beat the flavor that a barbecue imparts. I tweaked the recipe just a bit, using white wine in place of broth and increasing the tomatoes because we like things really tomato-ey around here. And before cooking the couscous, I toasted the pearls in melted butter until they turned golden and fragrant. When serving the soup, I kept the couscous on the side so everyone could scoop in the amount they desired. With its deeply satisfying, smoky flavor and bright pop of dill, this is a soup I’ll be happy to eat quite often!
Beth and Sarene are also hosting a couscous recipe contest this month for Tasting Jerusalem. I decided to move in a sweeter direction with couscous and make a pudding for my boys. A lonely bottle of orange blossom water has been sitting in my cabinet for a while, and pairing this with honey and orange zest seemed a marvelous way to flavor the pudding. Orange blossom water has a truly lovely fragrance, and I’ve discovered it’s quite good in tea, too, so I think I’ll be keeping it within easier reach.
I simmered Israeli couscous with cream and honey, whisked in egg yolks and coconut milk, then added a splash of orange blossom water and a bit of orange zest to finish the pudding. Warm, rich and creamy, with a hint of honey and the delicate scent of orange, this pudding is indulgent for breakfast or dessert. Needless to say, my sons devoured it quickly!
Orange-Scented Couscous Pudding
1/2 cup Israeli (giant) couscous
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey, plus extra for serving
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-14 ounce can whole, unsweetened coconut milk
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon orange zest
Orange slices for serving (optional)
In a medium sized sauce pan, bring the cream, couscous, honey and salt to almost a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for about 7-8 minutes, until couscous is al dente. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and coconut milk until smooth. Slowly pour the coconut-egg mixture into the cream and couscous and stir. Continue cooking, stirring a few times, until the pudding thickens, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the orange blossom water and orange zest.
Let the pudding cool slightly (it will thicken as it cools). It’s best served warm or room temperature with orange slices a drizzle of honey. If you chill the pudding, it will thicken quite a bit so warm it and add a little cream or coconut milk to loosen it.
Burnt Eggplant and Mograbieh Soup
Adapted slightly from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
2 large eggplants (about 2 pounds total)
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon cumin
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1 pound Roma tomatoes, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus lemon slices to serve
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup Israeli (giant) couscous or mograbieh
Fresh dill for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat your barbecue on high, then lower to medium. Slice one of the eggplants in half lengthwise and set aside one of the halves. Pierce the whole and remaining half eggplant a few times and place on the barbecue. Close the cover and let cook for about 10 – 15 minutes. When blackened, turn them and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Dice the raw half of eggplant into a small dice. In a large sauce pan or soup pot, drizzle a little olive oil and fry the eggplant over medium heat. Stir a couple of times, so most of the sides brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
Add another drizzle of olive oil and the onions and cook over medium heat the onions are soft. Add the cumin, tomato paste, tomatoes and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the wine, water and lemon juice, bring to a simmer and then lower heat. Let cook for about 15 minutes.
In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the couscous. Stir and toast it until it browns. Watch closely, as it will turn dark and burn quickly. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch, a sprinkle of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cook until just softened, about 8 minutes (depending upon your brand). Drain and set aside.
Remove the cook eggplant flesh and add to the tomato base. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until mostly smooth. Reheat gently and add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with some fried eggplant, dill and a slice of lemon. Serve the couscous in a bowl alongside, allowing everyone to scoop out what they’d like.