Essaouira Couscous with Saffron, Mint and Lemon

Imagine a sophisticated salon lined with intricate Moroccan tiles and finely carved white plaster; imagine the aromas of spices, incense and complex tagines; imagine literally dozens of traditional lanterns filled with flickering candles and the warmth of a Moroccan welcome all wrapped up with a flounce of Parisian glamour. You have just entered Essaouira, an authentic Moroccan restaurant just a few streets away from the Eiffel Tower. It is too many years since I was there but I have never forgotten the romance of that experience and the immense quality of the food; their couscous was the best I’ve ever eaten. Of course, theirs will have been properly rolled and steamed in a beautiful couscoussier – I’ve always yearned after one! – but here is my version which is thrillingly quick to make and much, much more subtle than anything you will ever buy in packet. As  you can see, it requires quite a lot of cumin but don’t be afraid, I promise you that it won’t overpower the dish.

Essaouira Couscous


300g of couscous (buy it from your local Asian store, it’s much cheaper and more authentic)
1 tbsp ground cumin
80g golden sultanas
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 tsp ground turmeric
A pinch of saffron threads
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Fresh mint leaves, to garnish (optional)

How I make it

Add all the ingredients – except for the lemon juice and mint – to a medium bowl and mix.

Pour over enough boiling water to cover, around 450mls.

Cover and leave for a few minutes to reconstitute the couscous and to allow the flavours mingle a while. Check for consistency, adding a little more hot water if necessary (you want the couscous to be light and fluffy rather than heavy and dense). Then add the salt, the zest and juice of the lemon and fork through to loosen the grains.

Tumble the couscous into a lovely bowl and garnish with fresh mint leaves, if using. If you’re feeling really fancy – and I often do – you can also add some pomegranate arils and a handful of chopped pistachios.

I serve this with my ratatouille Niçoise with saffron and lemon and lightly dressed leaves.

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