I have always been into reading about health and nutrition; frankly, I find the whole process of eating, digestion and the impact it has on our bodies, on a molecular level, quite fascinating. Not that I think of it all the time, but that got me reading about how our food has changed over the past century. One of the most noticeable changes has been cross-breading, refining and bleaching wheat, which has made wheat so different from its original ancestor. This fact has opened up my eyes to other various facts regarding mass-produced commercial manufacturing of grains, which I had no idea about. I wouldn’t like to argue about the ethical issues involving such practices, this blog is certainly not the place for it; however, it has made me conscious about the source of my food.
Thus began my discovery of experimenting with different grains, and currently spelt, kamut, rye and buckwheat have become firm cupboard staples. My favourite whole-grain is kamut. It has a distinctive golden colour and a hint of malted flavour. Compared to wheat, kamut is higher in protein and lower in gluten, and is not as dense as its other whole-grain counter-parts. Plus, it excites me to know that it’s the same grain used as the time of the Pharaohs in northern Africa.
I was out in the market a few days ago when I came across Kamut couscous and I instantly knew what to do with it. With the right dressing, pomegranate seeds, herbs, harissa marinated chicken (or halloumi for vegetarians), and crisp salad leaves I knew we were in for a treat.
Harissa is a spicy North African paste made from sun-dried, mature red chillies and olive oil. All the extra spices, acidity and garlic are added according to personal taste. Here is my version, and quite frankly I’m ‘mildly’ addicted to it. I remove the chilli seeds to reduce the heat, and one tablespoon of this paste mixed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt makes a superb marinade, sauce or a simple drizzle over yoghurt or pasta.
Harissa paste – Makes enough to fill a small jar
- 100 g fresh red chillies, seeds removed and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon each: caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds
- 1 heaped tablespoon tomato purée or 2 sun-dried tomatoes
- 1-2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar (or any other light coloured vinegar)
- pinch of sea salt to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Start off by gently roasting the spices in a small pan on medium heat until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Cool for a minute or so and grind with a pestle and mortar, until coarsely ground.
Add all the other ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. You may need to add a splash of water to help the mixture loosen up a bit, but don’t add too much olive oil at this stage.
Note: any remaining harissa paste can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight jar topped with a layer of olive oil to preserve it. Alternatively you could freeze tablespoonfuls of harissa paste in an ice-cube tray in the freezer.
Harissa marinated chicken (or halloumi) – serves 4-6
- 1 tablespoon harissa paste
- 2 tablespoons medium flavoured olive oil
- juice of half a lemon
- pinch of salt
- 4 pieces of chicken breasts, sliced
In a shallow dish, mix all the marinade ingredients to form a smooth paste. Add the chicken and leave to marinate for at least 20 minutes, preferably a few hours.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Heat a char-grill pan on high heat, add the chicken and char for a couple of minutes on each side. You are trying to sear the chicken and not cook it. Cover with foil (to prevent if from drying) and cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Leave the chicken to rest while you prepare the table.
For the Halloumi: prepare the marinade by simply mixing some harissa paste with olive oil. You do not need any lemon juice or salt, as the cheese is very salty and full of flavour. Simply marinate for a few minutes, then pan fry on medium heat for a minute on each side.
Kamut couscous with pomegranate and herbs – serves 4-6
- 180 g (1 cup) kamut couscous (or use plain if you not available)
- 1-2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1-2 lemons juice only
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- large bunch of fresh coriander, parsley and mint
- a handful of pomegranate seeds (approximately one)
- salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sized pan, bring 250 ml (1 cup) of salted water to the boil. Add the couscous, remove from heat, cover and leave for 10 – 15 minutes. Meanwhile chop the herbs. Once the couscous is light and fluffy, and while still warm, add the pomegranate molasses, juice of one lemon, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
It is cruicial to get the seasoning right at this stage, so if you feel the you need to add more acidity by using pomegranate molasses or lemon, go ahead and use your instincts. Once you are happy with the flavour add the herbs and pomegranate seeds.
Serve with chicken or halloumi, a crisp salad, and yoghurt. Roasted silvered almonds would also make a nice crunchy addition to the couscous.