Couscous, for swells

Life seems to run permanently on the edge. Not enough time for this, not enough time for that, too much time for not much at all. What it means, I guess, is that you’ve got the ball, 20 metres from goal, you can win the game with the last shot, but five opponents are about to grab you.

It’s how you react to the pressure that counts.

I’ve done it by subscribing to couscous on a very regular basis. When all else is lost you can be sure that a shot at couscous will win the big game. It’s one of those rare ‘givens’ which takes hardly a second to prepare, and yet has a marvellous capacity to take on board the most ordinary of guests and change them into something of great class.

Couscous, the dish, is the steamed, or infused, swollen grains of semolina, made from wheat grain. With all sorts of add-ons, it is very much part of life in North Africa, particularly in Morocco, where it can claim status as a national dish.

Not so long ago, each family would have its wheat ground to its needs at local mills; back home, the grain would be rubbed with fine flour, so that grains would separate easily when steamed. The true-to-generations form of couscous is as far away from the pace of today as the ship of the desert. In old times it was at first moistened and then rubbed between the fingers, sieved, steamed, rubbed again, steamed again, and then served. Too much for me. I’ll go for the pre-cooked, packaged couscous.

The big-shot couscous meal of Morocco is couscous with seven vegetables, some of which are certain to be zucchini, eggplant and carrots, but more likely to be whatever vegetables cope with slow cooking and are still hanging around at the end of a busy week.

What I like about couscous has not a lot to do with traditional recipes put together laboriously in a couscoussier, but more to do with its great texture, and its ability to assist with other sometimes lesser flavours. In my wild butter-with-everything days, a ripper couscous was no more than piping hot grain laced with melted butter, black pepper, stacks of herbs and a creamy blue cheese. Those were the days.

6 tomatoes, skinned (or 250g tin of tomatoes)

1 hot chilli, chopped finely salt black pepper 250g packet couscous good pour of olive oil 4 eggs

the freshest grab of herbs from your garden, but you must have tarragon

a few strips of smoked salmon per person

1 teaspoon caraway seeds Parmesan for grating


Cook down the tomatoes with the chilli, some salt and black pepper until they have reduced and thickened – about 25 minutes in the microwave.


Prepare the couscous as described on the packet: bring 250ml of water to the boil with a little salt and olive oil. Remove from heat and stir in 250g of the couscous grains. Allow to swell and add a good pour of your best virgin olive oil. Set aside.


In a wide saucepan, bring a few centimetres of water to the boil, reduce to barely a murmur, and add the eggs, one at a time. Maintain at a simmer for a minute. Put on a lid and turn down the heat for another minute, then turn off the gas. You must make sure that both parts of the white have set just firm and the yolk is undercooked.


Re-heat the couscous gently and mix through the tomato sauce, herbs, strips of smoked salmon and caraway seeds.


Serve with the egg sitting gently on top of the pile of couscous. Sprinkle with plenty of black pepper and some herbs, and have some grated Parmesan on side.


Pop the egg and go for your life.

WINE:  Traminer is the forgotten grape of the Australian wine industry, but the good ones are still great. Try one with this dish. I like Orlando Flaxmans, Lilydale Vineyards and Tim Knapp- stein’s from Clare.