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.

Spring Chicken Stew With Couscous

prep time: 15 minutes to 2 hours ~ cooking time 90 minutes

Cook’s Note: If you buy pre-shelled fava beans, your prep time will be on the low end of the range; if you shell your own favas the high end of the range. To prepare this dish without a couscoussiere you must have a metal colander that will fit snugly above a steaming pot of stew.

  • 1 Sweet Onion, diced
  • 6 cloves Garlic, sliced
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 4 Chicken Thighs, rinsed and trimmed
  • Cayenne Pepper, to taste
  • Salt & Pepper
  • about 1/2-3/4 c. White Vermouth
  • 2 c. Water
  • 1 1/2-2 c Couscous
  • 1/2 c. Shelled Fava Beans
  • 10-12 shelled Green Almonds

Sweat the onions and the garlic in a glug of olive oil over medium-low heat in the bottom portion of a couscoussiere or a pot. When becoming brown add the turmeric, stir to coat, then add the chicken thighs. Allow to brown. When the chicken in a deep golden yellow, turn the heat up and add the vermouth. Allow to cook a few minutes and add the water. Bring to a boil, bring down to a simmer and cover the pot with the steamer portion of the couscoussiere or a colander.

Place the couscous in a bowl and sprinkle with cold water. Work the grains with your hands to moisten and break up lumps. Pour the couscous into the steamer and rake with your fingers to aerate. Allow to cook 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes turn the couscous out into the large bowl, season with salt, sprinkle generously with cold water and stir with a wooden spoon to break up lumps. Return the grains to the steamer. Allow to cook a further 30 minutes.

Turn the heat under the pot off. Pour the couscous into a large bowl. Add the fava beans and green almonds to the stew. Stir to incoporate.

Add a good drizzle of olive oil or a knob of butter to the couscous. Stir in until absorbed.

To serve: Place a mound of couscous on each plate with a piece of chicken and a good portion of the stew gravy. The chicken should fall off the bone. Mix it all together and try not to groan in delight. Enjoy!


21 Responses to “Futzy Feast”

  1. deb May 7, 2007 at 10:24 am #

    What a fabulous gift! I think I’d read about this proper steamed couscous in an essay by Jeffrey Steingarten eons ago, but I had yet to see it in pratice. How delicious. That new pot is fantastic, and I can imagine that the built-in steamer could be useful for countless other preparations. (I wholly loathe those old-school steamers, and trying to lift them out without burning my fingertips or soaking a potholder. Feh!)

  2. Lisa (Homesick Texan) May 7, 2007 at 10:51 am #

    Thanks for the ecstatic review of your new toy, and lucky me, it’s just in time as I have a b-day coming up soon! And I’m with you on shelling beans/peas–it just feels like work if you’re not sitting on the front porch of a farm house.

  3. Susan in Italy May 7, 2007 at 11:13 am #

    Man! Does that sound great! I don’t have a couscousiere, though. I hear you about fava shelling. It’s disappointing to me to buy a giant plastic bagful only to spend hours reducing it to 2 cups. I haven’t sees pre’shelled favas ’round these parts, though.

  4. sher May 7, 2007 at 1:23 pm #

    WOW!!! That looks fabulous!! Those pictures are amazing. Shelling any bean like this reminds me of how the women in my family would sit in a group and do the shelling, as we gossiped. It was great fun and accomplished the task much faster. I love fava beans so much, I tolerate the ordeal of shelling them because of that. Your dish looks delicious. I’m going to fix fava beans this week!

  5. Luisa May 7, 2007 at 3:46 pm #

    I peeled my own fresh favas ONCE and never, EVER again. Oh no. Life is too short. I substitute canned baby lima beans. If I am going to foodie hell for that, then so be it. (I actually prefer limas to favas.)

    Happy Birthday! What a lovely gift. Yum.

  6. ann May 7, 2007 at 7:30 pm #

    Deb — I’ve just gone to the book, and yes, you are correct, Mr. Steingarten did cover the topic! I’ll now be reading his take on the futziness while lying on the couch, reading wine and watching Antiques Roadshow… Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I hate those old school steamers too, but I have one. I bought it ’cause it had Sprout on it.

    Lisa(HT) — oh man, you’ve just brought back such memories. My mom used to grow scarlet runner beans for no other reason other than to dry them, shell them and grow them again the next year. She and I would sit on the back porch and shell them together. Maybe next time I’ll sit out on my stoop and see who stops by for a chat.

    Lisa — I guess that’s another one of the amazing things about living in this ‘hood. It has one of the oldest populations of Middle Eastern folk in the U.S. I guess they’ve figured out some way to shell them faster and in greater quantity than I can!

    Sher — You, me and Lisa should get together some day and gossip while shelling beans. I bet that would be fun! I’ll be looking forward to your fava recipe, like I always do!

    Luisa — thanks! I do love lima beans. And it’s funny you mention them, because right around the end of the first hour I actually thought, “you know, I bet limas would be a lot easier to deal with, and just as tasty.”

  7. Julie May 8, 2007 at 9:49 pm #

    I think I was groaning in delight as I looked at the pictures. This meal looks wonderful and your couscoussiere is fabulous! I love it, and (sidenote here) isn’t couscoussiere a great word? I love saying it.

  8. izzy's mama May 8, 2007 at 11:05 pm #

    That is one lovely couscoussiere! An ex-boyfriend of a dear friend once bought one for me (but a far cheaper looking one)so I was never inspired to use it. In fact it is now collecting dust in my basement. I think I just used a colander lined with cheesecloth.

    I am a great fan of the fava. I promise, that with experience, the shelling goes much more quickly. I used to do it when I worked in a restaurant and still do at home, but now I get Izzy to help!

    Two unrelated things: 1. I can no longer see your sidebar (it pops up for 1 second and disappears)

    2. Did you see the New York Times Lifestyle Magazine this weekend? Someone stole your words..I saw the headline which began Purple, Pickle…and I thought you had been published there but no..

    The Dish
    The New Staples
    Purple, pickled and (un)pasteurized ways to perk up your palate.

  9. Terry B May 9, 2007 at 12:33 am #

    Ann—the stew looks and sounds delicious, but once again, your passionate, funny writing is even more delicious. Regarding black & white cookies, my only experience is from Fairway Market on the upper west side. Those are sufficiently wonderful to have become a must for each New York visit.

  10. ann May 9, 2007 at 6:40 am #

    Julie — I know! I love saying it too. Telling people at work what the boy had gotten me was a blast. So many blank looks.

    Izzy’s Mama — You have just put forth a very persuasive argument for having children (not that your entire blog isn’t already one). Bean shellers! And I’ve never thought about the job of shelling favas in a restaurant. That sounds just as bad as cleaning giant cans of roasted red peppers. As to the sidebars (heh) I’ll check in with wp.com, and yeah, I wish I’d been pubbed in T mag! I guess Merrill Stubbs (or her editor) likes alliteration as much as I do.

    TerryB — Thanks! Everyone should have at least one Black & White cookie experience in their life! I love them so much, even the cruddy ‘dega ones are a top treat!

  11. Mary May 9, 2007 at 1:09 pm #

    I got one of these as a birthday gift about 4 years ago – my friends have this tendency of buying me things so that I’ll make them their favorite foods. I LOVE the way the couscous tastes when you cook it properly like this. I also use the pot to make chicken stock (my last batch made 42 cups!) and I recently started using it to steam things: artichokes, asparagus and salmon in the last two weeks. Did you see Mark Bittman’s piece on making hot sauce? I make harissa that way (it’s the hot stuff you serve on the side, my husband would die if I made couscous and not the harissa to go with it) plus or minus a few ingredients. Sorry you didn’t get your cookie.

  12. Toni May 9, 2007 at 2:30 pm #

    Oh Ann…..Now I know that I absolutely MUST have a couscousiere!! I adore North African/Middle Eastern food, and your description of this made my mouth seriously water. Besides — it’s beautiful!!!

    Never tried the green almonds in their shells. I’ve seen them growing, but it didn’t occur to me that you could eat the outside!

    As for fava beans, I get them at the local farmer’s market. I know what you mean about the shelling. Bring on the sous chefs!!!

  13. Anne May 9, 2007 at 4:10 pm #

    Happy (Belated) Birthday! I love your present and love what you made even more. Spring is in the air and in the pot!

  14. ann May 9, 2007 at 8:49 pm #

    Mary — I LOVE harrisa. I just checked your site and found no recipe… would you be willing to share yours? I’d be tickled!

    Toni — Of all the people I “know” that read this blog, I’m quite sure you’d be one of the happiest people to have a couscoussiere! Try a green almond whole. Make sure it’s a small one and quite tender. It’s a singular experience.

    Anne — Thanks! I love the present too. It’s wonderful!

  15. Andrea May 10, 2007 at 2:41 pm #

    I need a couscoussiere now! You’ve sold it better than any ad could!

  16. FrenchLaundryAtHome May 10, 2007 at 3:49 pm #

    That chicken and couscous looks divine. I think I know what I’m going to make for mom on Sunday for Mother’s Day. I can almost SMELL it through your photos. Just gorgeous!

  17. ann May 10, 2007 at 7:03 pm #

    Andrea — Isn’t that what I’m here for? ;-)

    Carol — Maybe Keller will give you something similar to cook soon? I’m so jealous you get to see your mom on Mother’s Day. You’re a better daughter than I, obviously!

  18. Lydia May 13, 2007 at 6:40 am #

    Yippee! I have a couscoussiere that I bought at a middle eastern market on a whim a year ago — not nearly as elegant as yours, which is a thing of beauty, you lucky girl! — but I’ve yet to use it. Now, no excuse! I must try this recipe.

  19. Tiny Banquet Committee May 20, 2007 at 11:53 am #

    I **love** that couscoussiere! What a great gift!
    There is a bagel shop near me that has a breakfast couscous on their menu – I’ve never tried it but I think it’s served with milk and honey and maybe slivered almonds or something – it could be a fun breakfast or dessert to try if you ever get tired of making gorgeous, gorgeous stews, in, like, 5 years or something!

  20. Pille May 21, 2007 at 3:45 am #

    That couscoussiere looks gorgeous! A great birthday gift indeed :)

  21. Brooklynguy May 31, 2007 at 1:57 pm #

    I love that you can see your funhouse mirror type of reflection in the couscoussiere. What are you doing with your left hand – holding a light? Turning off a faucet? Shelling further fava beans?

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