Even though we were only three for Thanksgiving this year (including 1 vegetarian), my Mom wanted to make a turkey. I wasn't wild about eating side dish for my Thanksgiving meal, and so, as a compromise, we also made pearl couscous with fall vegetables and carmelized onions, using this recipe (published in Sunset magazine) from chef Joanne Weir.
Couscous is one of my favorite grains because it cooks so quickly and can be eaten with so many different toppings. Cooking the couscous is probably the quickest part of this recipe, which involves several different stages and takes more than two hours to complete. (The cooking time and the price of some of the ingredients, such as saffron, make this a recipe I would reserve for special occasions.)
I started by making the carmelized onion topping. The sliced onions are steamed before being browned in olive oil, and combined with golden raisins, cinnamon, honey, salt and pepper.
Next, I peeled and chopped the vegetables. The recipe incorporates a nice variety of fall vegetables, including zucchini, butternut squash, turnips and carrots, as well as a jalepeño pepper.
Once the vegetables were chopped, it was time to make the seasoned broth that would be used to cook both the vegetables and the couscous. (Mom also poured some of the seasoned broth into her (meat-based) stuffing and gravy.) I heated olive oil in a stockpot and briefly fried saffron, cumin, cinnamon sticks, salt and pepper before stirring in the vegetable broth.
After the mixture came to a boil, I added the carrots, turnips and jalepeño, and let them simmer. The zucchini and butternut squash were then added to the pot, and the vegetables cooked a bit more.
Then it was time to prepare the couscous. I ladeled two cups of broth from the stockpot into a saucepan, and then heated them, along with some water, to a boil before adding the couscous. While the couscous was cooking, I removed two additional cups of broth from the stock pot, to combine with harissa. (Mom and I were unable to find harissa in stores, so we made our own using a recipe from Tagine: Spicy Stews of Morrocco. The harissa was very easy to make - it is basically a blend of red chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander and olive oil.)
According to the recipe, the cooked vegetables and carmelized onions are to be served over couscous, with a pitcher of broth mixed with harissa and a pitcher of "plain" broth. I strayed a bit here because I was planning to bring the leftovers back to Denver with me and wanted to minimize the number of containers I'd be carrying. Rather than straining the vegetables to create a pitcher of plain broth, I let the vegetables soften into the remaining liquid, creating a stew-like texture.
Although the recipe was a bit time intensive, the results were worth it. The vegetables - and in particular the butternut squash - blended wonderfully with the saffron and other seasonings, and the sweetness of the carmelized onions contrasted nicely with the heat from the harissa.
And, yes, Mom did add spices (using a Chinese five-spice blend) to the whipped cream on our pumpkin pie. Yum.