Sweet Apple Couscous
I sort of jumped the gun and went apple picking this past weekend. I couldn’t help myself. I’m a sucker for fall, the first cool change of temperature and all the apple picking, pumpkin patch wandering, and wine-tasting (I threw that in there…). It’s a bit early in the season, so where I usually come back with several different varieties I ended up with who-knows-how-many pounds of Honeycrisps. They are literally overflowing in my kitchen, so I’m pressed to find ways to use them up…Luckily, they are delicious, the perfect balance of sweet and tart, and hold up well to cooking.
Couscous, while a North African staple, has truly become popularized and is found throughout parts of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Eastern Europe, and across the Middle East. Here, in the States, I’ve seen it creep onto dinner tables because of its incredible versatility and high nutritional content compared to rice and pasta. North African cooking, particularly Moroccan, is full of sweet and savoury dishes – with spices like cardamom or cinnamon bridging the gap. So couscous as a sweet side dish or a dessert does exist, though I surely haven’t seen any Berber recipes with apples…
For this dish, I was inspired by (obviously) the mass of apples in my kitchen, the sweet couscous recipes of North Africa involving dried fruits and nuts, and even the rice puddings of American and South Asian cultures (though this has no cream or milk). This dish is extraordinarily simple, healthy and delicious. It’s basically cooking a warm, buttery apple pie filling, folding it in to light, fluffy, sweetened couscous, and topping it with nutty, crunchy thin almond slices. The textures are beautiful and who can resist the combination of apples and cinnamon. A great fall dish… enjoy!
Serves 4 to 6
2-3 tbsps butter
5 cups apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a small/medium dice
½ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups couscous*
2 cups water
3 tbsps butter
1/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
Place a skillet on the stove over medium heat and melt the butter. When the foam subsides, add the diced apples and stir to coat. Turn temperature slightly down and cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to make sure the apples evenly cook. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla to the apples and stir to coat. Cook for another 5 minutes. The apples should be soft but still hold their shape (not complete mush).
In a casserole dish, spread couscous out to an even layer. Cooking it in this type of dish will increase surface area and keep the resulting texture light and fluffy. In a saucepan, bring water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil. Pour over couscous, stir briefly with a fork, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes, remove the plastic wrap and fluff couscous with a fork – the butter should keep the grains separate and prevent any clumping.
In the same dish or another serving bowl, mix together the couscous with the apple mixture and top with the toasted sliced almonds. Serve warm.
*I used the typical, plain, non-whole wheat, pre-steamed variety from the grocery store. Be careful not to use the tri-color type, which has spinach and tomato flavoring, or Israeli couscous, which is larger and requires a longer cooking time.