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Futzy Feast

7 May

I originally wanted to title this post The Unbearable Deliciousness Of Futzing.

Look closely, those are bikers on the BQE participating in the 5 Borough Bike Ride

But, it’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Milan Kundera, let alone that book, and so my love of alliteration won out over literary witticisms.

Last weekend I had a craving. I had read in the Spring issue of Edible Brooklyn that a place over on 5th Ave. called Leskes has the best Half-Moon Cookies (aka Black & White Cookies) in the world. Now, there was a time in my life where I very nearly subsisted solely on these anomalous cookies. More cake than cookie, when properly executed they come dressed in an ooey gooey fudgy icing on one side with a crackly, sugary glaze on the other. I love, love, Half-Moon Cookies.

But alas. We got there too late. They were sold out. I got another cookie, something almondy with a sickly slick of chocolate “icing” in an attempt to compensate, but it failed.

A Bay Ridge Mew

However, lest you go playing tiny violins over the tragedy of my cookie travails, something good did come out of this fruitless trek. We discovered a little old man with a magical shop. Tucked into a tiny hole in the wall on the east side of 5th Avenue in the low 70s, dwells a display of short-lived, seasonal Middle Eastern fruits and vegetables.

Favas. Green Almonds. Sour Plums (aka Alu Bokhara). Sour Apricots. And a few other things I couldn’t recognize.

Since we already had a date with pork, I had to leave the goodies there. The man promised he’d still be there next weekend, and he was. He said the almonds were getting old. That didn’t bother me I said because I was going to crack them open. No! he said, you eat them like this! He grabbed one and popped the whole thing in his mouth, fuzzies and all. He insisted the boy and I try it. Wow! What a weird experience. They’re fuzzy, yes, but no more so than a peach. What’s surprising is the overwhelming taste of green. Raw, earthy, springy. Green. And juicy! Green almonds must be the most looked forward to culinary arrival in the year to desert dwellers.

He also made us try a plum. It was the sourest thing I’ve ever tried, and I love sour. I asked about the apricots. He said they were even more sour. I declined his invitation to try one.

A Strange Mansion On Ovington

I bought a few good handful of the almonds and what, at the time, seemed like an ungodly amount of fava beans, still in the pod.

Who was the first person to eat a fava bean, and why? I hope they weren’t starving.

I’ve had fresh fava beans at restaurants before, and love cooking with the dried ones, but this was my first attempt at taking them from pod to pot. I’ve long admired all of Sher’s recipes using the beans she picks from her amazing backyard garden. I must admit, there was a degree of “Well if she can do it, I can do it” in taking on the fava shelling challenge, and I’m woman enough to admit that I will not being doing that again until there’s a tribe of Berbers living in the garden level apartment to help out.

It took me nearly two hours to shell the contents of my smallish bag. The boy had to do almost all the cooking of the stew. I stopped only long enough to tend my grains! Dear readers, shelled fresh favas are as easy to come by in these parts as iceberg lettuce. I hope you won’t think any less of me if I never shell my own again.

Carroll Gardens In Bloom

And so what did we do with these futzy favas? Do I hear a collective groan? Is she really going to trot out Claudia Roden and couscous again? That was just two weeks ago!

Yes, yes I am, but with good reason. I had to find an excuse to use my birthday present from the boy, my new kitchen bling. Yep, for my birthday, I was given a couscoussiere!


And, let me tell you this. I think that this pot is the secret to amazing North African and Middle Eastern dinners. I feel like if I reveal this to you the Moroccan Secret Police are going to come knocking at my door this evening and haul me away for revealing deep, dark culinary secrets. But I’m willing to tempt fate!

The stew that the couscous steamed over had only 8 ingredients in it, and yet it was so perfect, so profoundly tasty, that I would present this to Gordon Ramsay as my signature dish with no fear in my soul.

Spring Chicken Stew

I think, and here’s the root of the root and the bud of the bud of a tree called dinner, the secret to perfect Moroccan stews is… The couscous that fall through the holes in the steamer portion of the couscoussiere breakdown whilst cooking and thicken the sauce. Also, since the stew is technically covered by the couscous, and yet the steam is still leaving the pot, the liquid becomes beautifully concentrated. There. There it is. I’ve done it. I’ve let the secret out of the bag!

Spring Chicken Stew

But seriously, the chicken only cooked for about an hour and a half, and that 2 3/4 cup of liquid boiled down to the most beautiful and perfect gravy I’ve ever seen, and that wasn’t even what I was trying for! It perfectly coated each futzy bean and wrapped its deliciousness around the green almonds which added an almost grape like texture to the stew.

Spring Chicken Stew

Couscoussiere’s are big and a little bulky but if you love Middle Eastern cuisine, I highly recommend running out to buy one or ordering one online today.

I’m sure they have other uses. Maybe for steaming vegetables? Or fish? Or rice? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Spring Chicken Stew with Couscous.

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