Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Moroccan Feast for the New Year

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A delectable, delicious and mouthwatering French Roast stewed with onions, apricots and prunes. Perfectly glazed, patently sweet-and-sour Seville Orange Chicken. Precious pearls of couscous hand-rolled and steamed and surrounded by a bounty of the earth’s produce. A luxurious feast fit for any Rosh Hashanah table. 

Couscous, those small steamed balls of crushed semolina flour, is the staple food of the Maghreb. A food that originated among the Berbers of northern Algeria and Morocco, it had become a staple dish among Maghrebi cooks by the 12th century. A recipe for couscous from Marrakech is found in the Andalusian Muslim cookbook “Kitab al-Tabikh al-Maghrib wa’l-Andalus” (“Kitchen Writings From the Maghreb and Andalusia”). The magistrate of Granada, Spain, extolled couscous in a poem as a “noble and distinguished dish.”

Sephardic Jews adopted couscous because of this Moorish influence and, after their expulsion from Iberian lands in 1492, they carried it with them to their new homes. When they settle in Livorno, Italy, they introduced cuscussu to Tuscan cuisine. In Arab lands, this dish was often called maghrebiyya, denoting it’s place of origin. 

An extremely versatile dish, couscous can be served with meat, fish or chicken. It is almost always served with garbanzos and a broth of vegetables made with butternut squash, zucchini, carrots, celery, onions, turnip and cabbage. Caramelized onions, raisins, cinnamon and honey are stewed to produce a sweet accompaniment called Tfaya. 

Couscous is served even with fresh fruit, and Rachel remembers eating couscous with sugar and cinnamon  as a child. 

The centerpiece in the cuisine of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan Jews, couscous represents happiness and abundance, prosperity and blessing. Everything we could ask for in the New Year!


1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
5-pound French roast
2 large onions, sliced thinly
4 medium parsnips, coarsely chopped
1  15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
3 cups homemade beef stock or water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups dried pitted prunes, whole
1/2 cup quartered dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 300 F.

Combine spices and rub on both sides of roast.

Line roasting pan with sliced onions and parsnips and place meat on top. Add canned tomatoes, stock or water and olive oil. Cover tightly with foil.

Roast meat 2 hours, basting every 30 minutes with pan juices.

Add prunes and apricots to pan. Cover and roast until meat is tender, about 1 hour longer.

Cool roast  uncovered 1 hour. Chill overnight.

Spoon off and discard solid fat from top.

Place roast on work surface. Slice thinly across grain.

Arrange slices in large ovenproof dish. Spoon juices with fruits and parsnips over roast. Cover with foil.

Can be made 2 days ahead and  refrigerated.

Sprinkle with cilantro or parsley before serving.

Rewarm covered meat in 350-degree oven about 30 minutes. 

Serves 8.



Juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup Seville orange marmalade
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Orange slices for garnish 

Preheat oven to 375. 

In large bowl, combine first eight ingredients and mix well.

Arrange chicken pieces, skin-side up in a baking dish.

Pour sauce to coat chicken and let sit 30 minutes.

Bake 1 hour.

Lower heat to 300 degrees and bake additional 45 minutes.

Serves 4-6.


6 cups vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, separated
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoon turmeric
1 medium sweet onion
2 leeks, cut into 4 pieces
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch sticks
1 small green cabbage, cut into quarters leaving bottom intact
1 turnip, peeled and quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into 2- inch sticks
1 large quince, peeled and quartered
4 medium zucchini, cut into sticks
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 4 large strips
17 ounces couscous (substitute quinoa for gluten-free option)

To prepare vegetables:

In large pot, boil 6 to 8 cups broth or water with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper and turmeric.

Add vegetables in order: onion, leeks, carrots, cabbage, turnip, celery and quince and cook for 10 minutes.

Then add zucchini and bell pepper and cook for additional 10 minutes. 

Remove vegetables from broth and set aside.

To prepare couscous:

Place couscous in fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold water until water runs clear.

Place couscous on sheet pan and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt, let stand 10 minutes. 

Add about 1/4 cup olive oil to couscous and run fingers through grains to break up lumps.

Using couscousier (special couscous double boiler) or a simple double boiler, fill pot with vegetable stock (prepared at home or store-bought) halfway up sides of pot. 

Place piece of cheesecloth inside steamer so grains won’t fall into broth. When steam starts to rise, add couscous, cover pot and steam 15 minutes. 

Pour couscous onto baking sheet, add a few ladles of broth to couscous and break up any clumps with your hands.

Put couscous back into steamer and steam additional 15 minutes. If steam is escaping through sides of steamer, wrap kitchen towel or more cheesecloth around it.

Repeat process: Pour couscous onto sheet and add a few ladles of broth and separate clumps.

Typically a third steaming is done just before serving. Because couscous will have expanded so much at this point, it’s best to steam in two parts.


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds onions, mixed yellow and red, thinly sliced
1 cup golden raisins, soaked
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons honey or sugar

In large pan, heat oil, add onions and cook slowly until golden, 30-40 minutes.

Add soaked raisins, cinnamon and honey or sugar, and cook additional 10 minutes over medium heat.


1-2 butternut squash or pumpkins
Olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Peel and seed squash, cut into half-moon slices.

Place slices on cookie sheet and toss with oil.

Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake until golden.

Serve on platter with Tfaya (onions and raisins) on top.



1/2 cup oil for frying
1 cup peeled blanched whole almonds
1 3/4 cups cooked chickpeas, or 1 13-ounce can chickpeas, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil and fry almonds first. Drain on paper towels.

Fry garbanzos and drain on paper towels.

Reheat in oven before serving and season with salt and pepper.

Assemble couscous:

Platter with vegetables.

Platter with couscous, decorated with fried garbanzos and fried almonds.

Platter with butternut squash and Tfaya.

Bowl with broth.

Serves 6-8.

Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts will answer cooking questions on Instagram at SephardicSpiceGirls or on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes.

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