Sunday, January 12, 2014

Couscous with Dried Fruit

Couscous with Dried Fruit in bowl, fork and napkin in background

A quick version of North African “pasta”

Couscous is among the most famous grain dishes of North Africa. It’s a particular favorite in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. But you’ll also find couscous in many other countries bordering the Mediterranean, including Italy (especially Sicily).

Preparing couscous the traditional way is a lengthy process (one that includes washing and drying the couscous, then steaming multiple times). The dish is wonderfully light and fluffy when prepared this way, but most of us just don’t have the time.

Well, no worries. You can make great-tasting couscous with ingredients sourced at any supermarket, and it’ll take just minutes. But feel free to tell your guests that you slaved over a hot stove all day.


Couscous with Dried Fruit in white bowl, overhead view on black

Recipe: Couscous with Dried Fruit

Couscous (sometimes spelled cous cous) is made from semolina, a form of durum wheat that can also be used to make the dried pasta shapes for which Italy is famous. So you can think of couscous as a form of pasta.

As noted above, preparing couscous the traditional way is laborious: People spend hours rolling granules of semolina by hand, shaping it into the tiny “grains” we call couscous. Then they steam it at least twice. These days, however, any modern supermarket sells boxed couscous (usually labeled “instant”) that you can cook in minutes. Despite the “instant” label, you can use boxed products to prepare a traditional, time-intensive couscous if you wish; see Notes.

Couscous is somewhat flavor-challenged on its own. So it’s often served as the base for a tangy tagine (a stew-like dish) made from meat and/or vegetables. Sometimes people prepare it more simply and serve it at the end of an elaborate feast to help diners fill up in case they haven’t had enough (similar to the way rice can be served at the end of an elaborate Chinese banquet).

Our recipe treats couscous as a starchy side dish (one that makes a good substitute for rice or potatoes). It’s great served with roast chicken or grilled meat. Or with a stew—like the Moroccan Kefta and Tomato Tagine I’ll be posting about later this week.

Prep time for this dish is 5 or 10 minutes, with cooking time adding another 10 minutes or so.

This recipe serves about 6 as a side dish. Refrigerated leftovers keep well for a few days if stored in an airtight container.

Ingredients
  • ½ cup dried apricots (can substitute another dried fruit; see Notes)
  • ½ cup raisins (can substitute another dried fruit; see Notes)
  • 2¼ cups stock (see Notes)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1½ cups couscous (the boxed kind you find in the supermarket; see Notes)
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt (about half that amount if using table salt)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Procedure
  1. Chop the apricots and raisins roughly (I generally leave some of the raisins whole) and set aside.
  2. Bring the stock to a boil in a saucepan, then reduce to a simmer.
  3. In a separate 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, add the couscous and sauté for two minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the apricots, raisins, salt, and pepper to the couscous. Then add the simmering stock and stir to incorporate. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low.
  5. Cook according to the package instructions until the couscous has absorbed all the stock. For me, this usually takes about 10 minutes, but your timing may vary. I always peek in at the 8-minute mark to see how things are coming along.
  6. When done, transfer the couscous to a serving bowl. Fluff the couscous with a fork, and serve.
Couscous with Dried Fruit in bowl, fork and napkin in background

Notes
  • You can substitute any dried fruit for the apricots and raisins, although I think both work particularly well in this dish. Just use about 1 cup of chopped dried fruit for every 1½ cups of dried couscous (don’t stress over exact measurements.)
  • You need about 2¼ cups of liquid for 1½ cups of dried couscous, but follow the package directions. It usually doesn’t hurt if you add a bit more—the dried fruit absorbs some liquid, and couscous also has no trouble absorbing extra liquid. But the cooking time will be a little longer. You can also use a bit less liquid, but be sure to keep a close eye on the couscous—once it absorbs all of the liquid available, the bottom layer can burn and stick to the pot. If you use less liquid, the dried fruit may not rehydrate fully, though it will still be tasty.
  • BTW, even if the couscous package instructions don’t direct you to use hot stock, I recommend you do so (because it works better). Hot stock tends to decrease cooking time by a minute or two.
  • You can also substitute vegetable stock or water (although with water, the flavor of the couscous won’t be as intense).
  • Many brands of supermarket couscous are “instant,” whether labeled as such or not. This means they’ve been steamed once and then dried.
  • As noted, the traditional way of making couscous starts with forming the couscous “grains” (by rolling the semolina between your hands). But you can also buy ready-to-cook versions just about any place in the world where couscous is a staple dish.
  • To cook couscous the traditional way, you first sprinkle it with water and spread it out to dry, then steam it. Then you spread it out again, work some liquid (often milk) into it, and allow it to re-dry. Then steam it for a second time, spread it out again, work more liquid into it, and let it dry again. Finally, you steam it once more and serve.
  • If you want, you can follow this traditional method using “instant” couscous.
  • The traditional cooking method makes the couscous incredibly light and fluffy. It’s a lot of work, though! I’ve made couscous this way, and probably will again. But most of the time, I prefer the quicker method outlined in this recipe.
  • The traditional way of serving couscous is to heap it on a large platter, then top it with stewed meat and/or vegetables. People eat from this communal dish.
Couscous with Dried Fruit in bowl, fork and napkin in background

The Case of the Flying Couscous

“Love this,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, forking a bite of couscous. “The dried fruit is so plump, and the flavor really blossoms.”

“It’s good stuff,” I agreed. “Though if you were eating this in Morocco, you might not be using utensils.”

“Oh, that’s right—I guess traditionally they eat with their hands,” said Mrs K R. “Must be hard with couscous, though.”

“I did manage to learn how when I was living in Morocco,” I said. “You form the couscous into a ball using the first three fingers and thumb of your right hand. Then use your thumb to flick the ball into your mouth. Kind of like shooting a marble.”

“That requires some serious hand-mouth coordination,” said Mrs K R.

“Yeah, well, most of the time my ball of couscous would disintegrate in midair,” I admitted. “So I generally broke down and used a spoon. Plus, if the couscous is too hot, it can burn your fingers.”

“Ouch!” said Mrs K R. “My compliments to whoever invented silverware.”

“Our fingertips thank him,” I agreed.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Moroccan Orange and Radish Salad
Moroccan Carrot Soup
Aromatic Yellow Rice
Or check out the index for more recipes

94 comments:

  1. Good Morning John , this dish is a must make , such wonderful and powerful ingredients , what a treat I'm going to make my family , a plus from potatoes and rice , I will make sure they use silverware :D thanks for sharing :)
    PS: Hope your weather is a little warmer , they are saying another freeze is on the way .

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    1. Hi Nee, the weather has gotten quite a bit warmer, thank goodness; much of the snow has melted! And if you don't mind using silverware ;-) this is a wonderful dish! Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Arthur, it is, it is! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  3. Fantastic John, and a reminder that I should make couscous more often... to your recipe! Thank you for sharing : )

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    1. Hi Lizzy, couscous is such a nice change from other starches, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

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  4. I make my couscous in a baking pan to ensure it stays fluffy and last night I watched Ottolenghi on TV make couscous in Marrakesh and he put the liquid in the couscous in a baking pan, stirred it and then covered it with foil. Five minutes later he popped it in the oven for 15 minutes to steam. It looked so good. I'll try your beautiful recipe his way. :)

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    1. Hi Maureen, I like the idea of making it in a baking pan a lot! Ottolenghi's method sounds perfect for this - I gotta try it! Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Eating Couscous with your hands is actually quite pleasing. The key word in knowing how to. even though I eat a lot of Indian and Ethiopian food with hand, I have never quite mastered the art of eating couscous. Yes.. Mrs KR is right! Compliments to whoever made the silverware!

    I can see the dried fruits shining in this dish. Will go perfectly with a tangy Tagine! Look forward to your tagine post.

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    1. Hi Ansh, even some Moroccans break down and eat couscous with a spoon! I could sometimes get my couscous to hold together so I could eat it by hand, but usually not. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. This would be delicious with a saucy tagine -- yum!

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    1. Hi Chocolate Shavings, this is wonderful with a tagine! Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I love this Moroccan trip you're taking us on! I can't wait for your next post with the tagine. I think this would be a great lunch by itself! Happy Sunday!

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    1. Hi Debra, aren't the Moroccan recipes fun? I"m having a great time! Thanks for the comment.

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  8. Oh I love that this grain salad has dried fruit! Thank you for sharing John. This looks just delicious.

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    1. Hi Monet, doesn't dried fruit have so much flavor? And a little goes a long way! Thanks for the comment.

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  9. John, I can't believe I didn't know you lived in Morocco! What a fabulous experience. No wonder you're doing all these recipes credit!

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    1. Hi Beth, I lived in Morocco for a bit decades and decades ago. ;-) Just out of college. But I really learned to love the food there! Thanks for the comment.

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  10. put a little curry in there, an egg and you have a great morning breakfast for when it's 15 degrees out.
    i can't get enough curry lately; always have that craving for curry in the winter, has to be my old bones loving the warmth.

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    1. Hi Dawn, some curry and an egg would be wonderful with this! Great breakfast, or even dinner. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. This would be awesome as a bed to some tagine chicken. We love couscous and enjoy morrocon flavors a lot. Great exprerience.

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    1. Hi Asha, this would be excellent with a chicken tagine. Great idea. Thanks for the comment.

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  12. Excellent post about couscous! Thank you!

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    1. Sarah & Arkadi, glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the comment.

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  13. Well, this is so much lovelier than my water-added couscous on the run recipe:D Love love dried apricots, so I know this would be a favorite dish of mine! I suspect I would need a spoon as well:D

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    1. Hi Barbara, don't dried apricots have wonderful flavor? And cutlery is definitely needed for this! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. I love couscous and your rendition of it looks terrific! Thanks for posting this one.

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    1. Hi Dan, this is a really nice dish - definitely worth trying. Thanks for the comment.

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  15. Ooh I love couscous. Though I usually try and cook it using the traditional method and then not do it again for a while since it took so long! And yes compliments to whoever invented silverware :)

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    1. Hi Shefali, the traditional method is really good, but it certainly takes time! Thanks for the comment.

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  16. Couscous has not been in my cupboard for soooooo long. Why oh why I can not say. I do like it, a lot! For some reason I just never buy it. I must change that now because I am ever so curious as to how this delicious meal tastes. Good thing I'm going grocery shopping this week, lol...Thanks for all the details and the recipe John. I'm actually excited to try it ASAP!

    P.S. I may just need to do some sleuthing into this silverware "thing." I do know Catherine de Medici helped in making the fork a popular dining instrument:)

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    1. Hi Louise, couscous makes a fun change to usual starches from time to time. I really hope you do something with the history of silverware - you're just the person to do it justice! I'd love to read what you come up with. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  17. So love your use of apricots in this! Cous cous reminds me a lot of quinoa - while they are nutritionally diverse,they seem to favor each other in absorbing the flavors of spices or whatever they are cooked in/with.

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    1. Hi Shashi, couscous does look a bit like quinoa, doesn't it? Not as good nutritionally, alas, but awfully tasty. And it really does absorb the flavors it's cooked in. And with. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  18. this version of couscous looks so sunny and with all those dried fruits going in with a super easy to follow recipe....terrific dish,thanks so much for sharing :-)

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    1. Hi Kumar, this really is a pretty easy dish. My favorite kind! Thanks for the comment.

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  19. Yes, I'm always surprised at how quickly cous cous takes to prepare- why make rice, which takes longer! But I didn't know that my cous cous was 'instant' and that the usual preparation takes hour!! Can't wait to see your next post!

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    1. Hi Fran, the traditional couscous technique yields an incredibly light and fluffy final result. But I think the couscous in this recipe is quite decent - much less time and the final flavor and texture of the dish is quite nice. Which is what counts! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  20. A great combination! Perfect when served with a tagine.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, this really is nice with a tagine. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  21. Love couscous, especially when it involves dried fruits: i much prefer it to rice or potatoes (in fact, i eat next to no rice or potatoes anymore, thanks to things like this, and millet, an quinoa). And i've always wondered about the eating-with-fingertips thing, ever since i was small; i remember learning about how other cultures eat carefully using only the top portion of their fingers, and it made sense for chunks of things, like meat or vegetables, but not as much for small things like this. Now? now i get it. :) thanks, John.

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    1. Hi Shannon, eating with fingers has a lot of appeal - look at babies, they do it instinctively! - but I"m not all that fond of burnt fingertips! Silverware is a good thing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  22. Love cous cous and this really looks fantastic!

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    1. Hi Asmita, isn't couscous such a nice dish? Thanks for the comment.

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  23. I'm so glad we can get couscous now that doesn't require steaming it three times. Lol, or I don't think I would have ever had it. I love the addition of dried fruit, especially since what is available fresh in the market right now is so limited. Happy Monday.
    -Gina-

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    1. Hi Gina, preparing couscous the traditional way isn't for most of us! And although I do it sometimes, it only for a very special occasion. Thanks for the comment.

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  24. I had no idea traditional preparations of couscous were so complicated. Very interesting! I love adding dried fruit to savory dishes.

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    1. Hi Laura, isn't dried fruit a nice addition? Gives it some extra flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  25. I was amused when I saw this post. I had just come from making couscous with dried fruit and photographing it when I saw yours. I have to say, however, yours is much, much more photogenic than mine!

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    1. Hi Sage Trifle, isn't this a great dish? Looking forward to seeing yours! Thanks for the comment.

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  26. I'm an expert with finger eating but I have to admit, couscous is hard! It just disintegrates! Nevertheless, it's so good especially especially with the dried fruits in it, I like it with bits of preserved lemons too. Thanks for the recipe, John.

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    1. Hi Nazneen, I never became more than passable in eating with my fingers, and never had much luck with couscous. ;-) Love the idea of preserved lemons - I'll have to try that sometime. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. I haven't tried couscous before.Can I have this recipe sweet?

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    1. Hi Peachy, I don't see why you couldn't sweeten up this recipe, maybe even serve it as a dessert. Might be fun to play with. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  28. Mmmmm....I've made a similar recipe with quinoa, and now need to try it with couscous!

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    1. Hi Liz, quinoa would make a dandy substitution for couscous in this recipe! Thanks for the comment.

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  29. Just the colors make me want to have some right away....I need to make some.

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    1. Hi Minnie, it's a pretty dish, isn't it? Really great flavor, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  30. Haha, I had to laugh about your description of eating couscous with your fingers. I had a friend from Morocco and he prepared an entire dinner for me that we ate with our fingers, so interesting! I love this couscous dish, it sounds amazing, It would be so good with grilled chicken or pork!

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    1. Hi Chris, these days I prefer my finger food to be hamburgers and the like, although it's such an interesting experience to eat other things with your fingers. Sound like you had a wonderful experience! Thanks for the comment.

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  31. O.K. Now I'm going to say it. "This is a keeper!" I've made couscous many, many times, but have never added dried fruit other than raisins. Love the addition of the apricots. Also need to try your methods of making couscous. I usually just boil water, pour it over the couscous and cover. Fabulous dish John!!

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    1. Hi MJ, :-) This definitely is a keeper! Let me know how you like couscous prepared this way - I think it's pretty good. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  32. We eat couscous quite often and I prepare it similar to you. sometimes I add a splash of lemon juice in the liquid and it gives it a nice zing. Great stuff you've had lately! Wish YOU could pass some over!

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    1. Hi Abbe, I'd be happy to pass some over to you! Love the idea of lemon juice - I"m going to try that. Thanks for the comment.

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  33. What a great dish. I can see using this as a stuffing for so many dishes. Wonderful recipe! Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi VIcki, you're so right that this is a versatile dish - you can do a lot with it. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  34. I love fine texture of couscous and hint of sweetness from the dried apricot and raisins. Great combination. Thanks John and have a great week! :)

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    1. Hi Ray, isn't this a nice combo? And such a nice change from other starches! Thanks for the comment.

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  35. I love couscous and have it at least once a week in some capacity, this sounds like a wonderful dish!

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    1. Hi Gintare, we have couscous a lot, although not as much as you do! But it's so good I wonder why we don't have it weekly. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  36. whenever i see couscous in a menu, immediately it becomes my pick when we eat out. after that i tell myself that i should make a couscous dish at home but it never saw its fruition.so while i read your post, i am reminded again that i should include tat in my to-do list in 2014.
    Happy New Year John!
    Malou

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    1. Hi Malou, sounds like a worthy New Years Resolution! Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  37. Couscous is so fun to cook with!! Love this idea!

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    1. Hi Ashley, isn't couscous nice? And it goes so well with so many things! Thanks for the comment.

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  38. Don't you just love how well couscous goes with dried fruit? I have only tried it with dried cranberries, but loved it so much.

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    1. Hi Kristi, I think couscous and dried fruit is a magical combo. ;-) Really, really nice. Thanks for the comment.

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  39. I love this side dish, John! I'm always looking for an alternative to rice and potatoes. Though I must admit, my mind is searching for ideas to turn this into a dessert! I love Moroccan cuisine so I am truly looking forward to your Kefta and Tomato Tagine! : )

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    1. Hi Anne, there are definitely dessert couscous dishes out there, although I haven't made a sweet couscous. Coconut milk sounds kinda appealing to me - I may try that sometime. Thanks for the comment.

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  40. It took me a while to start liking dishes cooked with dried fruit, but now thanks to North African cuisine I quite enjoy them. Your couscous looks absolutely perfect, John. Thanks for sharing!:)

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    1. Hi Nancy, dried fruit took some time to grow on me, too, but now it's an ingredient I use a lot. Thanks for the comment.

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  41. This looks wonderful. I love the combination of dried apricots and raisins with the couscous.

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    1. Hi Dawn, it's a good combo of flavor - really delish. Thanks for the comment.

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  42. Here's to fingertips, couscous and dried fruit. I love this recipe John, it just looks so full of flavour and texture. I can't wait to try this one.

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    1. Hi Kim, the flavor is fun, as is the texture. It's good stuff! Thanks for the comment.

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  43. Nice to see couscous with something fruity and sweet.

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    1. Hi Raymund, it's a really nice combo of flavors. Moroccans use sweet things a lot in savory dishes. Thanks for the comment.

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  44. Hi John, I'd not eaten couscous but yours look wonderful and the combination with dried fruits sound like great pairing. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    Have a great day ahead,regards.

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    1. Hi Amelia, couscous is worth trying sometime if you have the opportunity - it has a nice, subtle flavor. And adding dried fruit to it is magical! Thanks for the comment.

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  45. I love couscous, and yes the addition of lots of variety of dry fruits just sound and look great...something that I sure give a try since I love fruits in savory dishes...

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    1. Hi Juliana, dried fruit really is such a nice addition to couscous - really kicks up the flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Candy, you'll enjoy this! Such interesting flavor. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  47. I love couscous with dried fruits, and nuts...and always cilantro to finish off. Gorgeous photos....as always!

    Love to Mrs K. R.

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    1. Hi Kitchen Butterfly, couscous is so versatile, isn't it? So many ways to use it! Thanks for the comment.

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