Jewelled couscous with pomegranate and almonds

Jewelled cous cous title © J Horak-Druiff 2011

One of my favourite books of all time is Tom Robbins’ Still Life With Woodpecker.  I remember a friend lending it to me, reading it, and being enchanted right from the start by Robbins’ quirky, memorable characters and poetic way with words.  Without giving the game away too much, the book asks the question “how do you make love stay?” and serves up some truly memorable observations along the way.  One of these is the romance of objecthood and I love it because it presupposes that there is romance and mystery in every single thing around us, not only in candlelit dinners and moonlit nights.

“The romance of new love, the romance of solitude, the romance of objecthood, the romance of ancient pyramids and distant stars”


Have you ever held an object in your hands that encouraged you to think not only about the object itself, but the place it came from; the people that made it; and how it came to be in your hands?  I have an empty ostrich egg that is covered with a fine mesh of tiny gold and black beads that neatly crosses the defining line between craft and art.  My mom and I bought a number of these from a woman in KwaZulu Natal (South Africa) who in turn sourced them from rural Zulu women who were employing their ancient tribal art of beading to create them.  I often cup it in my hands and run my fingers over the intricate beadwork; I hold it up to my face and I can still smell the faint smell of woosdmoke from the house where it was beaded.  I wonder about how on earth the beading was done so seamlessly; I wonder about the woman who made it and the little hut with the woodsmoke in the green hills of Natal; and I think about my mom and our last trip together to Durban to buy it.

On the bookshelf by my front door are two little midnight blue Moroccan bowls with siver metal trim.  They are perfectly shaped and sized to fit into a cupped hand and I often find myself absent-mindedly picking one up and running my fingers over the metal while I am talking on the phone or watching TV.  They were bought not in Morocco, but in Granada on one of the best holidays I have ever had.  In the summer of 2005 my two closest friends from South Africa and I rented a tiny house in the Albaicin (the old Muslim quarter of Granada) with a minuscule roof terrace and a view over the Alhambra palace.  I expected nothing more than a joyful reunion, but instead I got a collection of memories and images so vivid that they can (and do) transport me back to that weekend completely, even now years later.  As I turn the little bowl over in my  hand, I think of my friends in South Africa and wonder what they are doing.  I think about our little house in the Albaicin and who is living there now, gazing at the Alhambra every night while sipping Rioja and eating olives on the terrace.  I remember the serene beauty of the Nazarene palaces of the Alhambra in the early morning before the tourists buses arrived, and the sound of the swallows.  I remember baking hot afternoons and three crazy girls walking up the steep, empty streets of the Albaicin while sane locals napped.  I remember sitting in our tiny garden sipping lemonade and listening to the muezzin reciting the call to afternoon prayers from the nearby mosque.  I think about the jumble of market alleys around the cathedral, full of Moroccan merchants and Moroccan merchandise like my little bowls; and I wonder about the long journey that brought them from Africa to London, just like me.




Last week I shared with you my Moroccan lamb shank tagine with apricots and ras-el-hanout; today I am sharing the recipe for the jewelled couscous on which I served the tagine.  Couscous is a popular throughout north Africa and consists of dry granules about 1mm in diameter.  The granules are made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina wheat and then coating them with finely ground wheat flour. Although traditional couscous requires a long preparation time and is usually steamed, more-processed, quick-cook couscous is available in supermarkets and takes almost no time to prepare.  No prizes for guessing which method I used! There is considerable scope for customising this recipe with the addition of spices, sultanas, chopped apricots or pistachios; but I kept it simple as it was being served with the lamb tagine that already had some strident flavours of its own.  My only indulgence was the pomegranate arils – for their colour and for their associations with my beloved Granada.  My couscous was a side dish, but with the addition of some spices and some chicken, this could be a wonderful main course too.





2 cups dry couscous
3 cups boiling water (can also use stock)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup pomegranate arils
olive oil


In a dry non-stick pan, toast the almonds over medium heat until beginning to brown.  Watch them like a hawk as they burn easily!

Place the couscous in a large pot.  Add salt (I add about half a teaspoon) and boiling water and cover with a lid.  Leave to stand for 10 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed.

Add a good glug of olive oil and fluff up the grains with a fork.  Mix in the almonds, parsley and pomegranate arils and serve hot.

And in other news…

It is with great pleasure that I announce the 2011 Food and Wine Blogger Indaba! This event was held for the first time in 2009 and I was honoured to be asked to speak.  The good news is that I will be speaking again and hosting workshops at this year’s event in Cape Town!  Bookings are streaming in and tickets are selling fast – so if you are a food or wine blogger or if you are interested in becoming one, the Indaba is the place to be on 20 February 2011. Book now!

Dont forget to check out the series of posts we are running on the Plate to Page workshop blog featuring a review of 2010 and plans for 2011 from our four workshop instructors Ilva, Jeanne, Meeta and Jamie. The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop is now sold out – but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011.

My 2011 calendars are now available!  They are A3 size, printed on high quality heavy paper and make the perfect gift – for foodies, for those who love London or Italy or the beach – or those who simply love my Saturday Snapshots! And at £15.51 each they are an affordable luxury.

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing it using the social media buttons below the post. I'd also love to hear what you thought about this post so please do leave a comment below. Hope to see you again soon!

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  1. says

    Too funny – we have an item called jewelled couscous on a number of our menus. It’s different from this one, but it’s such a great term, isn’t it? Conjures up all sorts of lovely visions. And are the pomegranates not amazing right now? I bought some the other day and one was so huge it’s taken my girl and I 3 days to get through it. So delicious!

  2. says

    Beautiful post and photos. I’m obsessed with pomegranates. There’s a Nigella duck and pomegranate salad that I’ve been making a little too often lately. They’re also great with chocolate.

  3. says

    So many exciting things in the works Jeanne. Love this post about your memories. A great way to travel is by our food memories as well and taking journeys through the foods we eat.

  4. says

    I love Granada – was there over easter last year and the whole place was just overrun with hooded processions. Managed to get a seat in the window of a brilliant tapas bar and watched it all go by. Totally amazing.
    Lovely pics 😉

  5. says

    Now I am really in the mood for that delicious looking couscous. I am going to go and check out the tagine recipe now…sounds like a perfect Sat supper to me.

  6. says

    I too loved the book ‘Still life with woodpecker’ and for a long while after reading it I would look at various objects quite differently. I’m inspired to read it again now. I loved this post, and I have become quite obsessed with pomegranates lately.

  7. says

    How beautiful! Your memories are lovely and you bring them to life for us. I also have to reread Still Life With Woodpecker again. And make this couscous! It is really gorgeous.

  8. says

    I think I’ve got a bit of a love hate thing with pomegranate, I love how it looks, love the juice and the flavour but I have a problem with the seeds. Whereas I’ll pick them out, my husband just doesn’t do “bits hidden in food”. Do people swallow them normally?!
    Definitely craving cous cous and tagine now… not had it for ages.

  9. says

    @Michelle – that’s what I love about this dish – yo can vary it according to your taste & what you have in your fridge! (although I would argue that the pomegranates are essential to make it jewelled ;)) As for the size of the pomegranate, this one was also a GIANT pomegranate – terribly impressive!
    @Charlotte – No sin in making a duck & pomegranate salad too often! The only sin is not inviting ME over to share it ;o) never tried them with chocolate but now you got me thinking….!
    @Barbara – glad you liked the post – it makes me smile reading over it again. Pomegranates are a wonderful guilt-free indulgence!
    @Sara – the sweetness of the pomegranate worked really well with the spicy tagine, and I am a sucker for toasted nuts in anything!
    @Jerry – that’s the beauty of it: customisable couscous :)
    @Val – travelling through the medium of food is one of my favourite (and cheapest AND eco-friendly!) ways to explore the world!
    @Bron – Oh, I’d love to have seen hooded processions through Granada! Lucky you :) It is a mesmerisingly beautiful place…
    @Pascale – the tagine and the couscous together make up the most perfect comfort food for a chilly night – hope you enjoy!
    @Sam – it is a fantastic book, so full of sly humour, insights and a beautiful way with words – I can read it over and over again and it continues to inspire me.
    @Norma – hope you get hold of it – should make excellent holiday reading!
    @Lael – quick-cook couscous has become my go-to starch when I run out of time in the kitchen! So versatile – and I love adding stuff (as you might have noticed!!)
    @Jamie – the post makes me feel dreamy and lost in memory every time I read it – glad you liked it! The book is one of my all-time favourites…
    @Sarah – LOL! I just swallow them but I am sure that as a child I would have recoiled at the idea of such hidden pips in such vast numbers!! I love the look and the flavour of pomegranates and peeling them is an adventure in itself 😉
    @Arcadia – bly jy het dit geniet! Granada is een van my gunsteling plekke op Aarde & ek weet ek sal weer terugkeer.

  10. says

    Pomegranates always look so pretty, but I never get round to eating them. I must try more couscous recipes and convince teh kids to eat them – they’re so quick and easy!

  11. says

    Oh, that looks fabulous. I used to have a pomegranate tree growing in my back yard when I grew up in Arizona. We used to throw them against the side of the house making my mother furious. Can you imagine throwing a beautiful pom against the house. Ugh, what a naive little thing I was.
    I will have to try your recipe. I have a curry cranberry couscous that I make that is wonderful. You can find my recipe at Thanks for your post. Jana