Tag Archives: couscous

HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2014 (with recipes!)

Another shot from my most recent trip to Morocco:

A cup of Starbucks Coffee at the HUGE

Morocco Mall in Casablanca.

A little cafe nearby serves mint tea,

thank goodness!

May you find much to celebrate this

holiday season

(preferably with a champagne toast.)

As I was huffing and puffing through my Jazzercise class this morning,

my instructor said she purchased 35 pounds of masa to make her

Christmas tamales.

For those outside Southern California, tamales are a Mexican Christmas

delicacy wrapped in corn husks, eaten mainly during the Christmas season.

Around these parts, families get together to make dozens and dozens

(and dozens) of savory and sweet tamales to share with loved ones.

Still huffing, my thoughts turned to my own version of tamales, one using

couscous instead of the traditional Mexican masa. I once took dozens

(and dozens) of corn husks to Dar Zitoun, to demonstrate to my Moroccan

friends how to make tamales (TAMALES FREEZE!)

The recipe is long, but believe me, the result is worth it!


Excerpted from my book, Couscous (Chronicle Books, 1999)


Kitty’s Pineapple-Banana Couscous Tamales with

Cream of Coconut


The inspiration for this recipe was a pineapple tamal I tasted while serving

as a food judge at the Indio International Tamale (sic) Festival, in California’s Coachella Valley.


Serves 12 (makes about 2 dozen tamales)


32 corn husks (see Note)

2 2/3 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter

2 cups couscous

3/4 cup coconut cream (see Note)

4 medium bananas

1/4 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2 cups dried candied pineapple chunks

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for garnish

3 tablespoons rum

1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Immerse corn husks in a large pot of boiling water. Remove from the heat,

and let stand until soft and pliable, 40 to 45 minutes. Drain husks and pat

dry. Reserve 3 or 4 husks to line a steamer basket or colander.

With kitchen scissors, cut  2 of the husks lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips.

Set aside.


In a large saucepan, bring the water, salt, and 3 tablespoons of the butter to

a boil. Add the couscous and 1/2 cup of the coconut cream. Stir to blend.

Remove from the heat. Cover and let stand until the couscous is tender,

12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.


Quarter the bananas lengthwise, and cut into 1/4-inch dice. In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm the remaining butter. Add the dark brown sugar. Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the diced bananas. Stir to coat. Cook until the bananas soften somewhat, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the pineapple chunks, cinnamon, and rum. Stir to blend. Set aside.


To assemble the tamales, position a husk so the long edge faces you. Place

1/4 cup of the couscous mixture in the center. With a spatula, flatten the

couscous to form a 3-by-3-inch square about 1/4 inch thick. Set a heaping

tablespoon of the pineapple-banana mixture in the center of this square, and

form into a sausage shape. Leave a 1-inch border of uncovered couscous

top and bottom, and 1/2 inch on the sides. Grasp the bottom edge of the husk and fold it in half lengthwise. Compress to seal the couscous to itself and enclose the filling.

Gently unfold the husk, then wrap it around the couscous, as you would an

egg roll. Fold over the tapered end, and tie with a reserved precut strip of husk. Compress the other end. Leave open. Proceed in this manner until all the tamales are assembled.


Line the bottom of a steamer basket or colander with the reserved husks.

Set the tamales upright, closed end down, inside the colander. Bring water

to a boil in bottom part of the steamer. Cover tightly. Steam the tamales

until firm and heated through, 40 to 45 minutes.

In a chilled metal bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold in the

vanilla and remaining coconut cream. Set aside.

Place a steamed tamal in its husk on a dessert plate. With kitchen scissors,

cut away a large, V-shaped piece of husk to expose the couscous. Spoon a

generous dollop of coconut cream sauce on or near the tamal, sprinkle with cinnamon, and serve.

Note: Cans of coconut cream are available in liquor stores or Asian markets.

To celebrate both the holidays and persimmon season, I offer up the

following in memory of my friend Margie Oakes of Oakes Knoll’s farm in

Fallbrook (CA), provider of the plumpest persimmons in San Diego County. Margie was also a contributor to my book 365 to Cook Vegetarian (Harper Collins 1998)

with her recipe for Easy Overnight Lasagne, an unusual meatless version

assembled a day ahead.

Fuyu persimmons can be eaten out of hand, like an apple (they resemble

a square tomato.) Hachyias must attain a pudding like consistency. In France, persimmons

are called “KAKI.” Go figure.

Margie’s Persimmon Crisp

4 or 5 Fuyu persimmons, peeled, seeded, and sliced (like an apple)

Fresh orange juice to barely cover the fruit

Candied ginger, diced, to taste


Fresh, grated ginger, to taste

a sprinkle of cinnamon


Place all the ingredients in a pan, and bring to a simmer.

Cook about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool.

Refrigerate until ready to eat. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

THANKSGIVING or Le Jour de Merci Donnant 2014

I flew across the pond to Morocco in early November to take care of Dar Zitoun, our family riad, 90 kilometres south of Casablanca.  My memoir, Mint Tea and Minarets relates the story of this local landmark which I hadn’t visited in FOUR years. Although Dar Zitoun has been in the family for over half a century, it is time to put it on the market and hand over the keys to the next buyer. It is now “staged” for a sale.

In Morocco, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with old friends who always make my trip worthwhile. I am no longer conducting tours, but I can assure you that Morocco remains a welcoming destination.

First impressions: Air France rocks! And the connections between Paris and Morocco are excellent. I have no idea how the 800 passenger Airbus gets off the ground, but a complimentary glass of champagne and a smiling Air France flight attendant (yes, even in “cattle car”) did much to lessen my fears. While Charles de Gaulle airport is geared to luxury and comfort with soft music, a MUSEUM, and comfortable seating throughout, the Delta terminal at Kennedy is the “wretched” refuge of “huddles masses,” sitting and lying around on the floor. Is this the impression we want to give our visitors?  Hats off to the TSA, however. Passport control now consists of scanning your passport into a machine.

Morocco sits squarely in the twenty first century. TEXTING is the norm. Freeways, skyscrapers, traffic jams to rival downtown L.A’s, Casablanca’s state of the art train station and sleek electric trams have transformed the landscape (downtown is now a giant pedestrian mall, how cool is that?) I browsed around the Galeries Lafayette, the iconic French store, at the Morocco Mall. STARBUCKS, KFC, MacDos and Pizza Huts are leading the fast food  invasion. A royal wedding in Rabat topped it all off (I wasn’t among the guests, but I did meet up with Mrs. Chirac, wife of the former French president, in the Rabat medina!) Rabat’s recently opened Musée d’Art Contemporain is definitely worth the detour, as is dining in a riverfront restaurant in the new marina along the Bou Regreg.

These pictures will explain: The NEW Casablanca Train station/Casa Port.

October 2014 update

I will be on my way to the real kasbah when you read this. As many of you know, I haven’t been there in four years, an eternity for me. Dar Zitoun awaits on the banks of the Mother of Spring.

I was thrilled last month to be interviewed for NPR’s The Salt Blog, where my recipe for smen, Morocco’s unique preserved butter, is now online. The recipe is from Mint Tea and Minarets.

Smen: NPR The Salt


A new Middle Eastern market opened in our neighborhood, and look at what I found:

Russian couscous, can you believe it? When I first arrived in the US in the mid 1960s, my grandfather had to special order it in New York from Mid East importers. Great exultation followed upon the arrival of our couscous fix in Milwaukee, WI!