Spice Journey is the second cookbook published by the television chef and owner of Melbourne’s Maha Restaurant and Biggie Small’s Kebab Shop.
The food and flavours he has experienced in his travels from Morocco, Malta and Andalucia in the west, to Turkey, Lebanon and Iran in thee east, are distilled in 80 recipes accompanied by stunning images shot on location by photographer Rob Palmer.
Here, he shares his recipe for Foot of the Mountain Couscous with Garden Vegetables, which he was inspired to create after crossing the Atlas Mountains in north-west Africa.
Foot of the Mountain Couscous with Garden Vegetables
I remember eating couscous dishes all over Morocco. Lots of flavour and such attention to detail in the presentation of each dish. But for me the biggest let-down was the way it was prepared. The vegetables were always overcooked and collapsed into one. My version pays homage to the beautiful produce I found as I crossed the Atlas Mountains where the foot of the mountain opened up in full bloom and the air was filled with the smell of wild thyme.
2 large fennel bulbs, halved
2 large brown onions, halved
2 leeks, trimmed and halved
4 large tomatoes, halved
large pinch of saffron threads
handful herbs (such as rosemary, bay leaf, thyme)
3 small onions
3 small zucchinis (or zucchini flowers), cut lengthways
900g kent pumpkin, cut into thin wedges
2 small fennel bulbs, halved, fronds reserved
½ small cabbage, quartered
8 mixed new potatoes
8 purple potatoes (optional)
8 mixed dutch carrots, scrubbed
125 ml (½ cup) olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon extra for the couscous
6 garlic cloves
4 rosemary sprigs
handful fresh thyme, leaves picked
125g butter, softened
pinch of saffron threads
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon peel
95g chopped almonds, toasted
handful fresh herbs (such as coriander, mint), chopped
2 tablespoons harissa*
To make the vegetable stock, place all the ingredients and 2 litres of water in a large stockpot over high heat and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, strain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6).
Place all the vegetables in a large roasting tin and toss with the olive oil. Add the garlic and rosemary. Cook for about 1½ hours until tender and caramelised.
Meanwhile, blend the thyme and butter together in a small bowl with a wooden spoon, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat the stock in a saucepan over high heat and add a pinch of saffron threads.
To make the mountain couscous, first rub 1 tablespoon of oil into the couscous to prevent lumps. Transfer into a large bowl with double the quantity of hot stock and the salt. Set aside and allow to absorb the liquid completely. Set aside the remaining stock. Add the lemon zest, preserved lemon, almonds and fresh herbs to the couscous. Rub some of the thyme butter through the couscous to make it fluffy and aerated.
Reheat the remaining stock, with harissa to taste, then pour into a large serving jug.
Put the vegetables on a large serving plate and drizzle over some of the harissa stock and the remaining thyme butter. Scatter over the fennel fronds and serve with the remaining sauce and the couscous.
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