Is it “authentic Moroccan?” Probably not… However, this Vegan Moroccan Couscous with Chick Peas is loaded with Moroccan flavor, warm spices, and healthy ingredients. Served alongside your healthy main it’s fabulous, but it also makes a great stand alone vegetarian main dish!
By seeking and blunder we learn.~~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Germany’s greatest man of letters…”
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks – About Vegan Moroccan Couscous
I originally wrote this post spring of 2018, and it was a partner post to these Moroccan lamb shanks I did (and haven’t updated) in 2015. Given that this Moroccan couscous has been shared 24,000 times, it was long overdue for an update! So here we go…
Why is this couscous dish “Moroccan?” The major player is the ras el hanout – a Moroccan spice blend. Ras el hanout is a complex, aromatic blend of what I refer to as “warm” spices – cinnamon, ginger, anise, nutmeg… – up to 80 spices may be included. Every blend is different. No need to keep 80 spices on hand, though!
While I do often make my own spice blends like this mole spice blend, and this tajín, I don’t cook Moroccan that often, so I do like to keep a small jar on hand for quick meals like this couscous. There are many good quality commercial blends, and they’re absolutely fine in this recipe!
Apart from the ras el hanout, couscous, dried fruit, chick peas, ginger, and fresh herbs lend a Moroccan-flair to the dish. It’s a perfect dish to play with – try switching out the fruit, the vegetables, add proteins, etc. See the “Ingredients” section below for ideas. While I originally created this recipe as a side dish, it’s a great vegan couscous main dish for #MeatlessMonday too!
🥘 What is Couscous?
Couscous is a quintessential North African staple, and probably originated with the Berbers (an indigenous group found primarily in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria) in the 7th century. The couscous widely available in the US is an “instant” product, and not all that similar to the “real stuff.” It has been pre-steamed and dried, thus it needs only about 5 minutes in boiling water.
Authentic couscous is typically steamed, often atop a pot of stew. It absorbs the flavors of the stew, and is quite delicious. We used to celebrate our anniversary at a Moroccan restaurant in southern California that did amazing, authentic couscous dishes!
Couscous is not just small pasta. I hear that a lot. It is made from crushed durum wheat semolina; pasta is made from ground wheat. It follows, then, that couscous is NOT GLUTEN FREE. The macros will be similar to pasta.
🏝️ What makes This Couscous “Moroccan?”
Couscous is super versatile, but this dish does hit Moroccan flavor notes. Ras el hanout, a spice mix often used in North African cooking, is to Moroccan food what garam masala is to Indian. There is no one recipe.
Whether you use a commercially prepared ras el hanout, or make your own simple mixture, you’re sure to love this exotic combination of spices. Ras el hanout recipes vary, but typically include spices like cumin, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and cayenne.
An authentic ras el hanout is made from freshly ground whole spices, and may include more exotic spices like star anise and cardamom pods. You may even find dried caper and lavender in some recipes. 🙂
Moroccan cooks typically reserve this spice mixture for specialty dishes… The flavor is indeed special, and I love incorporating it into simple dishes like my Moroccan Carrot Salad With Lemon Dressing, Ras El Hanout Chicken Kebabs, and Moroccan Couscous Salad With Grilled Veggies and Chicken. Ras el hanout transforms even the humblest fare!
Of course chick peas, dried fruit, fresh herbs, and almonds are very typical of Moroccan cuisine as well. I love the versatility of this dish!
📋 Ingredients Notes
- olive oil
- shallot – Red or sweet onion are great substitutes for a shallot, but any onion will do. About 1/4 cup finely minced is great!
- fresh ginger – I keep a jar of minced ginger in my refrigerator, and it’s a great time saver.
- ras el hanout – Ras el hanout is a complex, aromatic blend of what I refer to as “warm” spices – cinnamon, ginger, anise, nutmeg, etc. You can purchase ras el hanout on Amazon, and find it in many markets. You can also make an easy ras el hanout at home.
- smoked paprika – Smoked paprika comes in “mild” and “hot.” We prefer hot, but the choice is yours!
- ground cumin
- broth – Choose a good veggie broth if you follow a plant-based diet!
- cooked chick peas – Canned are fine, but be sure to rinse and drain. If you like to start with dried chick peas, they must be cooked first. See FAQ below for more.
- dried fruit – Dried apricots, cherries, dates, prunes, raisins, and currants are all good choices.
- sea salt and several grinds pepper
- greens – I use baby spinach leaves, but baby kale and arugula are also good options. You need very tender greens that will wilt in the hot couscous.
- couscous –Dried couscous available in the US is typically parcooked. Be sure to check the package for exact amount of liquid (some may vary)! If you prefer to use Israeli couscous, you will need to adjust the liquid, and simmer until tender before adding the baby spinach.
- preserved lemon – Adding some finely minced preserved lemon is a special treat. On photo day, I had just finished a batch, and I minced up the peel of one lemon to add in at the end.
- toasted nuts – Sliced or slivered almonds, or pistachios are great options!
- fresh herbs – We like mint, cilantro, or parsley.
🔪 Step by Step Instructions
- Sauté the aromatics – Add olive oil to a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and shallot. Saute until onion is soft, transparent, and beginning to get some color (5 minutes or so).
- Add the spices – Add ras el hanout, smoked paprika, cumin. Stir 1 minute or so. Add salt and pepper.
- Simmer the chick peas and fruit – Add the broth or stock. Add chick peas and dried apricots (or other dried fruit). Bring to a boil. Simmer 3-4 minutes to combine flavors.
- Finish the dish – Add couscous and baby spinach. Cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit 5 minutes (or time specified on the package). Check for seasoning.
- Serve – Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, toasted sliced or slivered almonds, and minced preserved lemon peel (if you’re so inclined!).
Can I use dried chick peas?
I can’t find ras el hanout! What can I use?
- I’ve made this vegan Moroccan couscous with dried cherries (in the photos), dried apricots, dates, raisins, even Craisins… See what you’ve got in your pantry?
- Sautéed zucchini works well in place of the spinach, while orange mint, cilantro, parsley, and spearmint make great additions.
- Olives make an occasional appearance as well. All that to say, this is a great dish to “make your own” by adding what you love!
Check the ratio of liquid required by your specific package for 1 cup couscous, and adjust if necessary.
Broth or stock provide more flavor, but water is fine too!
Vegan Moroccan Couscous with Chick Peas
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot - chopped (see notes)
- 1 tsp garlic - minced
- 2 tsp fresh ginger - grated
- 2 teaspoons ras el hanout - see Notes below
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 ¼ cup broth or water - see notes
- 2 cups cooked chick peas
- ½ cup dried apricots - chopped (dried cherries, dates, etc.)
- ½ tsp sea salt and several grinds pepper - to taste
- 6 cups baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup dried couscous - see Ingredients in post
- sliced or slivered almonds - toasted
- fresh herbs - mint, cilantro, parsley, chopped
- minced preserved lemon - or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Add olive oil to a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and shallot. Sauté until onion is soft, transparent, and beginning to get some color (5 minutes or so).
- Add ras el hanout, smoked paprika, cumin. Stir 1 minute or so. Add salt and pepper.
- Add the broth or stock. Add chick peas and dried apricots (or other dried fruit). Bring to a boil. Add couscous and baby spinach. Cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit 5 minutes (or time specified on the package). Check for seasoning.
- Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, toasted sliced or slivered almonds, and preserved lemon or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice as desired.
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.