This Moroccan Inspired Couscous Bowl filled with Ground Beef, Cauliflower, Mushrooms and Dried Tart Cherries, topped with Caramelized Onions, is a delicious and easy weeknight meal.
Let’s just get the elephant in the room out of the way for you Moroccan food purists. Yes I used Israeli couscous. It was a whim, just what jumped out at me in the pantry. The first incarnation of this dish, made way back in 2009, was made with traditional Moroccan couscous. And really it is very good with either. Truthfully, you could even make it as a burrito bowl, i.e., with rice. I seem to be thinking that way a lot lately.
While it is true this is a “redux” post, I actually changed the meal a fair amount from that first incarnation. For one thing, it has a lot more of what I think of as “healthy add-ins to your taste.” In my case, on this occasion, that meant cauliflower, crimini mushrooms and dried fruit. I really wanted to work the cauliflower and mushrooms into the title, but it just got too unwieldy. And of course, if some other vegetable sounds better to you? Go for it! Really all of these “bowls” follow the same blueprint: ground meat (you could sub lentils or tofu for vegetarian versions) plus veggies of choice plus the flavor accents plus rice or couscous or even pasta. Chili powder, cumin and salsa in Mexican cooking; various whole and ground spices with yogurt and a chutney in Indian cooking. In the case of something Moroccan inspired, that means a few select spices, dried fruit, chopped seeded olives (I left out this time but they would certainly work) and either fresh (my preference) or preserved lemon. And none of what I have written is set in stone. I dislike olives, so I left them out. Ditto for using fresh lemon instead of preserved. Some items could be served on the side–if I had not been in a hurry, I would have offered olives on the side for my olive-loving kids.
I also changed some of the spices in this incarnation. For one thing, since that first post I have actually been to Morocco! Which means I know a bit more about what spices might be used. Second, and frankly even more exciting to me, I still have some ras el hanout from Morocco in my cupboard–the whole spice kind that I grind as need. No it is not amazingly fresh, but it is still quite fragrant, especially when toasted and freshly ground. Plus, well, sentimental value. If you cannot find ras el hanout, then just add extra of the other spices that I call for. I am sure it will still be delicious.
A couscous bowl is a great pantry meal if you can be relaxed about the details. For example, this would be better with some chopped cilantro or Italian parsley, but I did not have any so I left it out. No worries. My raisins were dried out and so were my currants, so I went with tart cherries. I left out the olives. My goal with this kind of “bowl” cooking is to be delicious, not authentic. If authentic happens too, great. If not, c’est la vie.
- 2 med-large onions–1/2 of one finely chopped, the other 1 1/2 thinly sliced
- 2 T unsalted butter
- salt to taste
- 1-2 T olive oil
- 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 t cumin
- 1 t cinnamon
- 1 t ras el hanout
- 1/2 t ground ginger (not fresh)
- 1/4 t allspice
- 1 lb sliced crimini mushrooms
- 1 lb ground beef
- 3-4 small-medium tomatoes, chopped (canned are fine too)
- 1 head cauliflower, leaves and stem removed, broken into small florets
- several handfuls of dried fruit of choice (we used tart cherries)
- juice of 1 lemon, plus a 2nd lemon sliced into wedges for serving
- Prepared couscous
- chopped cilantro (I did not have optional)
Heat a large non stick skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and the thinly sliced onions. Sprinkle with salt. Once they are sizzling, lower the heat. Basically you are going to caramelize these onions while you cook the rest of the meal, so keep an eye on them, tossing occasionally and turning down the heat as needed. By the end you will have turned the heat quite low, but in the beginning I like to let them get some color. Don't be afraid to splash some water on them if needed (1-3 tablespoons at a time) to prevent scorching or sticking.
Heat a second large stainless steel skillet over another burner, medium high. Add and heat the oil. When it is shimmering, add the finely chopped onion with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until they are light golden brown, maybe 5-7 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add the spices and stir into the onions. Do not let them burn. Let them roast briefly, then add the mushrooms. If at this point, before the mushrooms have really started cooking, you are concerned about the spices burning, add 1-2 tablespoons of water, Also sprinkle the mushrooms with a pinch of salt.
Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have released their water, about 5-7 minutes. Add the ground beef and break it up and stir it in.
When the ground beef is browned, add the tomatoes and the cauliflower and toss. Sprinkle with some salt. Mix in the dried fruit.
Bring to a boil, and then place a lid on the pan and turn the heat down very low to maintain a gentle simmer. Right now we are steaming the cauliflower. Leave it alone for about 7 minutes, and then check to see if the cauliflower is tender crisp.
If not, let is steam a few minutes longer. Then remove the lid and raise the temperature to medium low. Cook for a few minutes to allow some excess moisture from the cauliflower to cook off and for the flavors to blend. Mix in the juice of one lemon and taste for more salt. If it is not aromatic enough, you can also add a little more of any (or all) of the spices. If you were not using ras el hanout, add a few grinds of black pepper.
Toss with the prepared couscous and then when serving top with caramelized onions. Sprinkle some chopped cilantro on top if you have it. Serve with a wedge of lemon.