Recipe: Octopus and Couscous (aka Octo-cous)

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Photo by House of Sims/FlickrCC

This has been one of my favorite meals of late, a fascinating taste of Tunisian cooking that exemplifies the uniqueness and deliciousness of the country's traditional cuisine. Baby fava beans, chickpeas, and sliced up octopus are long cooked in a light tomato sauce, with the couscous cooked in at the end. If you start with cooked beans and cooked chickpeas--I confess to using canned more often than not for convenience--it's about an hour of cook time, most of which is unattended so you can do whatever other inspiring things you want while the stuff is simmering on the stove top.

The texture you're looking for in the finished dish is that of thick stew, so I'll let you judge, but starting with a handful (half cup) of couscous will be fine. To put the picture into your mind's cooking eye, it's more a tomato-based bean and octopus stew with couscous, and not--as I'd have imagined from reading the name alone--a bowl of lightly fluffed couscous with bits of octopus in it.

Serves 3 to 4 people; more if you add more octopus.

    • 3 ½ cups water
    • ½ cup tomato puree
    • ¼ cup tomato paste
    • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 rounded tablespoon Moulins Mahjoub sundried garlic
    • 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (15-ounce can), drained and rinsed
    • 2-4 meaty tentacles of octopus (about 1 pound), cut into ½ inch thick slices
    • 1 ½ cups cooked fava beans (15-ounce can), drained and rinsed
    • ½ teaspoon ground caraway seed
    • ½ cup Moulins Mahjoub m'hamsa couscous
    • Coarse sea salt to taste

Bring water, tomato puree, tomato paste, olive oil, harissa, and garlic all to a boil. Add the cooked chickpeas and the octopus, bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour (or as Onsa Mahjoub did when she taught me the dish, you can cut the time by about half if you do it in a pressure cooker).

Add the baby fava beans and ground caraway. Stir, bring back to a boil, and then add couscous. Stir well, turn off the heat, cover and let rest 7 or so minutes. The couscous will cook in the broth. You can adjust the seasoning with more or less tomato, garlic, caraway or harissa, and of course, salt to taste. Ladle into warm bowls to serve. I like to add more olive oil--I've been using the Mahjoub's own oil of course--atop each bowl (to taste) when I serve.

To order some of the Mahjoub harissa, click here. For the Mahjoub couscous, click here.

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Ari Weinzweig is co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also the author of Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating. More

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Russian history, Ari Weinzweig went to work washing dishes in a local restaurant and soon discovered that he loved the food business. Along with his partner Paul Saginaw, Ari started Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two, a small selection of great-tasting specialty foods, and a relatively short sandwich menu. Today, Zingerman's is a community of businesses that employs over 500 people and includes a bakery, creamery, sit-down restaurant, training company, coffee roaster, and mail order service. Ari is the author of the best-selling Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating and the forthcoming Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.
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