Let's see if this works...
Couscous is like the universe, say the Sufis; within an infinite substrate lie far separated clusters of sweetness which explode into life when the seeker encounters them.
They say nothing of the sort, of course, but it sounds like something they might say so let's roll with it.
If you happen, say, to own a tagine pot you brought back from Morocco and use as often as you can despite your nephew having broken the base for the coals so you have to use the damn thing over an open flame on a gas range, you can make TRUE couscous.
To make a true couscous, you need time. You soak the couscous in water, you prepare the raw ingredients, you layer them into the mix in your tagine pot, you gently simmer everything over coals for hours, you eat it with friends, on a rooftop in Marrakesh, laughing with beautiful, perfect teeth.
But this is the 21st century, drones patrol the skies, the environment is collapsing, Bladerunner was optimism. WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THAT SHIT.
Let's do TURBO COUSCOUS.
TO THE BAT SHOP. Or rather, the local Moroccan shop, which has two important things.
1) Fresh, inexpensive ingredients:
2) Arabic bread
Now I don't eat bread but that stuff is delicious and spongey and perfect for soaking up sauces and dipping in dips. It great to have on the table with a bunch of friends tearing off strips. I didn't buy any this evening but let's just imagine I did; it's warm, as it's freshly baked, it smells like heaven and sesame and it's already making you hungry, kay? Kay.
Back in the Bat Kitchen, we are going to start prepping. You can pull this entire meal off in around half an hour. 21st century, remember? First, you need fuel. The last of the Caol Ila.
You also need to be someone who happens to have insane amounts of weird herbs and spices to hand at all times. This is just a selection of the ones we're going to use.
So, first, you discover you happen to have an aubergine to hand and the taste of the whisky makes you reckless. You know it's one pot cooking but what the hell, you decide to cheat. I'm going to cheat. DO SOMETHING.
You roast that aubergine over a naked flame. It's actually illegal to roast aubergines in an oven. They become flavourless, lack smoke and people will shun you. Instead, turn it over an open flame until it becomes blackened on the outside and oozes juices that are going to take a long, long time to scrub out of the metal.
Meanwhile you are finely chopping ingredients. You can use anything you like, really, but these are my staple couscous food groups. Red, green, white and meat; that's two kinds of pepper, onion, halal meat from the afore-visited Moroccan shop and over there beside it a couple of chopped garlic cloves and a couple of chopped chillis.
There in the little bowl are two chopped tomatoes steeped in Modena vinegar. They were actually given to me by a friend, sourced from her garden, but we can count 'em in the price anyway.
Disclaimer: on the whole I'm veg and I'll make this with soaked lentils or lentils and chick peas instead of meat but tonight the whisky is making me wild. If you're going to substitute, just treat the legumes like the meat.
Meanwhile in the DISH OF CHEATING I've thrown three tablespoons of tahini. Add a squirt of lemon juice, some of that chopped garlic and some paprika, blend and you have a paste. A delicious, cheating paste.
Time for a quick change of drinks. The world's tiniest G&T.
Mix the remaining garlic, the chilli, some soya sauce, some cumin with the meat (or lentils) and let it steep. I also added hibiscus paste because awesome. If you can season for the whole day, so much the better, but this is the 21st century so we'll steep it until you start cooking it, dammit.
How's our cheating aubergine doing? Deliciously charred on the outside and squishy on the inside you say? Hello.
Strain the excess juices, crush and mash.
And blend with the delicious paste of cheating from earlier.
That's right, my friends. Baba Ganoush.
Meanwhile, the couscous. Here's 21st century speed couscous: equal parts water and couscous. If you are splendid, like _refugee_ you can use vegetable stock in place of water, which gives the couscous more flavour. You can also drop in half a cube of vegetable stock if that's all you have, but nothing that contains monosodium glutamate or the stars will cry.
Water in the pan, a teaspoon of olive oil, bring to the boil, throw in the the couscous, bring it back to the boil, lid on and heat off. Leave it alone. LEAVE IT.
Now this is supposed to be a single pot dish, thus after a few minutes and once we've fluffed our now yearning, swollen couscous with a fork and another dash of olive oil, let's get it out of the way to leave room to cook the rest...
A perfect time to pause and move on to Jamaican rum.
Onions first, in a tiny dab of butter. Butter is not bad; ask Michael Pollan; it also helps to brown the onion. Keep the lid on! What are you, psychotic? That will keep the onions from drying out.
Add the meat (or lentil) mix and brown through a little, then the rest of the vegetables.
I like to add peas. Keep that filthy canned stuff away from me; best peas are frozen peas.
After a few minutes, you can add a couple of spoons of tahini and a similar amount of pure peanut paste (peanut butter will do if you have nothing else and are willing to be pursued through all the circles of hell by lesser demons for all eternity).
Season with a splash of vinegar (no, really). Allow the steam to rise, you don't want it to be too liquid, nor too dry. Finally, tip in your couscous, stir nicely, lid on and allow it to sit and steep for a while.
This quantity will serve 4 - 6. Imagine the bread is sitting on the table too. There is the tomato which you can spoon over a full bowl of couscous to add moisture and zesty flavour, there's the harissa which will spice things up if the chillis don't do it for you, there's the illegal baba ganoush which you can either dip with imaginary bread or spoon over the couscous.
And to drink? I like my vodka like I like my post-modern pro-feminist Disney fable reimaginings....
As for the accounting, this is tricky. Already to hand, the couscous, the spices, the tahini. Even the unlawful aubergine lurked in the fridge. The tomatoes were a gift but let's add them in regardless. Everything I bought amounts to around 8 euros BUT! I used half the veg and only a third of the meat which by rough calculation means around 4 - 5 euros. Add a euro for imaginary bread which will also feed four to six, say 50 cents for an aubergine, 10 cents each for the spoons of tahini and pure peanut paste, 25 cents for the lemon I already had, another 25 for a handful of frozen peas and we're looking at maybe 6 - 7 euros (7 - 8 dollars) for the whole thing; $1 to $1.50 a head; which leaves 14 euros for 2 - 3 good bottles of local wine.
COUSCOUS 1 onion 1 green capsicum 1 red capsicum 2 green 'guindillas' (chillis) 2 garlic cloves 1 tbspn hibiscus paste 1 fist sized lump of steak 1 handful fresh / frozen peas 1 cup couscous 2 tbspns tahini 2 tbspns peanut puree Salt / pepper / soy / vinegar / cumin
BABA GANOUSH 1 aubergine 3 tbspns tahini Juice of 1/2 lemon Pinches of salt, paprika 1/2 garlic clove
GARNISH 2 tomatoes Dash of salt, dash of Modena vinegar