Crispy couscous with pumpkin and tomatoes
with the fridge finally bare of leftovers and the stomach full of one too many treats, the annual pledge to make better choices has finally kicked in. Alas, the extremities of diet and exercise usually fall by the wayside come February. For this reason, I prefer a gentler approach to annual resolutions. A high dosage of vegetables, prepared lovingly and no less decadently than at other times of year, is the prescription – plus a little sweet luxury just to keep me going. Vegan Gluten free Dairy free Prep Cook Serves 25 min 1 hr 20 min 4
½ crown prince pumpkin or butternut squash (750g), skin on, cut into 2cm wedges and halved widthways
3 tsp ground cinnamon
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 105ml olive oil Salt and black pepper
The crisp, caramelised layer at the bottom of the pan makes this couscous particularly appealing. The trick to achieving this layer – known as or depending on where you are in the world – is to let the couscous cook undisturbed, resisting the temptation to stir. Serve with a bowl of yoghurt.
tahdig 2 large onions, peeled, 1 cut into 1cm-thick rounds, the other finely chopped
2½ tsp caster sugar 4 star anise
⅓ tsp chilli flakes 750g plum tomatoes (around 6-7), coarsely grated and skins discarded (600g net weight)
1 tbsp tomato paste 250g giant couscous 250g baby spinach 15g coriander leaves, roughly chopped socarrat, Heat the oven to 240C (230C fan)/ gas 9. Toss the pumpkin with a teaspoon of cinnamon, a quarter of the garlic, two tablespoons of oil, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Spread out on an oven tray lined with baking paper, then roast for 30 minutes, until cooked through and nicely browned.
Put the onion rounds on a second lined tray (keep them intact) and drizzle with a teaspoon and a half of oil. Sprinkle with half a teaspoon of sugar and a small pinch of salt and pepper, then roast for 18 minutes, carefully flipping over the rounds halfway, until softened and deeply charred. Keep warm while you get on with everything else.
While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. On a medium-high flame, heat three tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan with a lid, then fry the chopped onion and star anise, stirring occasionally, for eight minutes, or until softened and browned. Add the rest of the garlic and the remaining two teaspoons of ground cinnamon, and cook for 30 seconds longer, or until fragrant. Add the chilli, tomatoes, tomato paste, the remaining two teaspoons of sugar, a teaspoon and a half of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and cook for eight minutes, stirring often, until thickened.
Pour in 500ml water, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and rich. Measure out 400ml of the sauce (leave the star anise in the pan), pour this into a small saucepan and keep warm. Meanwhile, tip the couscous into the remaining sauce and stir to combine. Add 375ml water and quarter of a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil on a medium-high heat. Cover with a lid, turn down the heat to medium and leave to cook undisturbed for 30 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the base and edges of the couscous have crisped up.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high flame. Add the spinach, an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and cook until barely wilted, about two minutes. Stir in the coriander and set aside.
To serve, spoon the couscous on to a serving plate and top with the reserved sauce, pumpkin and spinach, layering it all up as you go, then add the onion rounds. Drizzle over the last teaspoon and a half of oil, and serve warm.