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Sweet Couscous with Dates and Nuts

With the holiday cooking season fast approaching, we thought it the perfect time to cull back through Tin House’s various forays into the culinary world and share some of our favorite recipes.

From our Food & Booze anthology, Jeff Koehler’s perfect side dish.

 Sweet Couscous with Dates and Nuts

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This sweet couscous, called masfouf in Tunisia and Algeria and seffa in Morocco, is often eaten during Ramadan once the fast has been broken. Traditionally this recipe calls for the uncooked type of couscous that needs to be triple-steamed in a couscoussière. This version uses the more readily available (and presteamed) couscous.

 Serves 6

Ingredients:

3 ½ cups water

1 ½ ounces unsalted butter

½ teaspoons salt

2 cups couscous

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup whole almonds

1 cup dates, such as Deglet Noor

½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios

2 teaspoons essence of orange blossom

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon for dusting

1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Bring 2 1.2 cups of water, the butter, and the salt to boil in a large saucepan. Remove  from heat  and pour in couscous in a steady stream. Stir with a fork and cover. Let sit for 15-20 minutes.

Prepare syrup. Combine remaining 1 cup water with the sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Slip skin off almonds and gently heat in a frying pan until warm and fragrant.

While these hear, pit the dates and cut into cubes, leaving dates whole for decoration.

Roughly chop half of the almonds in a food processor, leaving the rest whole for decoration as well.

Fluff couscous with a fork to separate the grains, then turn out onto a large serving plate. When cool enough, work through couscous with the hands, making sure there are no clumps, lifting and letting it fall through the fingers. It should be fluffy and soft but not mushy, and should have expanded a few times in size. Sprinkle with essence of orange blossom, add in date cubes and ground nuts, and mix well with the hands. Slowly drizzle in half of the syrup, working in with the hands. The couscous should be moist but not soggy.

Transfer to a large serving platter. Form the grains into a mound. Dust with cinnamon and confectioners’ sugar. Cut the remaining dates in half lengthwise. Decorate with date halves and whole nuts. Put remaining syrup in a small pitcher for those who want their couscous sweeter. Serve with glasses of cold milk or buttermilk.

Jeff Koehler’s work has appeared in Gourmet, Saveur, Food & Wine, EatingWell, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

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