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Life is in the details

Passport & Plate - Couscous from the heart

Tunisia | Thursday, 13 March 2014 | 5 photos


Ingredients
A recipe for 4
For the couscous
4 cups of couscous
3 table spoons of olive oil
Salt & pepper
Water
Cumin

Accompanying the couscous
A whole chicken
A tub of Yogurt
Salt & Pepper
3 table spoons of Garlic paste
2 large Onions (Chopped into long thin streaks)
2 large lemons
Rosemary
Parsley (Fresh and chopped)
Tomatoes (2 or more depending on taste, chopped into tiny cubes)
Colored peppers (Chopped into thin streaks)


 

How to prepare this recipe
The night before, cut the chicken into four main pieces and place it in a large plate, then marinate it with Salt & Pepper, the garlic, the chopped onions, squeeze the lemons on the chicken too, add the Rosemary, Parsley, chopped tomatoes, rosemary, and the peppers. Let them sit in the regular fridge for three hours. After that, add the yogurt above the mix, and spread it all over the chicken, and leave it in the fridge all night till its time to cook.

When you're ready to eat, you need to start it going an hour in advance. Place the chicken with the complete mix in a couscousier (its a cooking pot specially for couscous, where you place the meat-fish or chicken at the bottom, while you place the couscous on the top that resembles a tight strainer, and the steam from the other ingredients cooks the couscous with its aromatic flavor), or you can use a steamer that has two levels, put the chicken mix on the bottom and the couscous on the top to cook on the magical steam of the other ingredients in the bottom. And by magical, I really mean magical! This recipe always makes people happy.

So, after you placed the chicken mixed in the bottom of the couscousier, on the stove top, put it on medium heat and let it start to cook. After 45 minutes of that, while the chicken is still cooking. Place the couscous in a frying pan, put the couscous on the pan with enough water to cover it, and cook it, while stirring it for a few minutes, add water if needed, but wait till the couscous absorbs most of the water, put the olive oil on it, and the salt and pepper and continue stirring. This part should take around ten minutes. The couscous does not need to be fully cooked, it just needs to absorb the added ingredients and expands so it can sit on the top of the couscousier (it has holes in it like a strainer but tighter), then increase the heat. The steam will cook the couscous on top & in 10 minutes, viola! Its ready!

 

The story behind this recipe
I was living in Thailand, years ago. I ended up in Tunisia due to a mistaken booking. I had no budget to stay in a hotel as I was a volunteer at the time. I had met an amazing Tunisian girl during a conference years before in Spain. I called my family had them dig through all my post cards over years to find a post card from that Tunisian friend that has her address.
Finally, they found it. When I got to her place, I realized that my friend lives in a small building and is friends with all the neighbors. Her sister and brother and their spouses also live there.

They were all struggling artists. When I showed up at her doorstep I worried that I will be a burden. My friend was so surprised and ecstatic to see me, that she jumped and gave me a huge hug and welcomed me in her home & introduced me to everyone in her building. I can't describe the warmth I felt. I have never been given so much, from people who had very little at the time.

My presence for the week turned into continuous laughter and festivities & we were all together all the time morning to night. We barely had anything to eat as we all had no resources, yet they were offering me anything and everything they had at their homes. We sang, hugged, ate, danced & talked about everything & nothing, in that small old building with all its residence.

I never wanted to leave.
On the night before my last, we were all crying. They also wanted to make me a special feast, and due to lack of money, they explored everyone's fridge, and took every possible item left in everyone's fridges (the ingredients in my recipe above) and we got creative with what to make & viola! that's the recipe above. Now, being a struggling artist myself, when the world is too tough, I make this recipe, and am immediately filled with happiness as if I was there with everyone in the Tunisian building, feeling their hugs and tears, and how people who had nothing, gave me everything that really mattered & memories to last my whole my life.

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