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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ASPARAGUS TIPS: North Africa Wheat Dish Is Easy, Tasty

Many years ago, I sat with Michel, the owner of a small French restaurant, and discussed his heritage over a few bottles of champagne. Although French, he had spent his childhood in Algeria -- only leaving when his parents were presented with the "suitcase or coffin'' alternative by Algerian "freedom fighters."

His restaurant cuisine was French, but the colonial heritage showed through when he excitedly discussed his Bastille Day menu. The featured dish was couscous -- that North African favorite.

Couscous is a wheat product, similar to semolina but much coarser. It is highly absorbent, so when preparing it you need to be economical with the liquid you add so you don't end up with a semolina porridge.

In North Africa (and France), it is made in a pan called a couscousier. The bottom half of this lightweight aluminum pan bulges outward and holds broth, vegetables and poultry or meat. The top half has a perforated base that sits tightly over the bottom. The dampened couscous is placed in the top and then tightly covered and steamed by the broth.

Couscous is usually served with harissa, a fiery chili paste. You can make harissa by blending 250 grams of finely chopped red chilis, one medium head of garlic, 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds, 1 tablespoon of dried mint, 3 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, 1 tablespoon of salt and enough olive oil to make this into a stiff paste.

The harissa can be stored in a jar, covered by a thin film of olive oil, for several months. The spices are available from Progress or Indisky Spetsky, opposite the junction of Prospekt Mira and the Garden Ring.

Buttered couscous is one of the simplest preparations. Put 500 grams of couscous in an ovenproof dish and pour over 600 milliliters of hot chicken stock. Leave for 10 minutes. Stir in the finely grated rind of two lemons, two grated small red onions, 50 grams of melted butter and salt and pepper to taste. Fluff up with a fork. Cover with foil or lid and cook in preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. This makes an excellent accompaniment to meat or vegetable stew.

Progress, 17 Zubovsky Bulvar. Tel: 246-9078. Metro: Park Kultury.