Recipe: Moroccan Couscous Fritters for Hanukkah

From Morocco, the world champion of couscous, comes a delightfully crunchy treat.

Limor Laniado Tiroche

I visited Morocco for the first time 10 years ago and it was my dream tour: ancient cities, lively markets, snow-covered mountains and warm people with a sense of humor and stormy heart. I had been waiting ever since to go back there, to the colors, smells and sights that are so deeply engraved in my memory.

I got my wish last week when I went to Marrakesh, the loveliest, most colorful city of them all, which effervesces with life 24 hours a day. The food in Marrakesh, which is simple and delicious, is based mainly on local ingredients such as vegetables, eggs, potatoes, chicken tajine and couscous.

It is no news that the Moroccans are the world-champion preparers of couscous, which they include in a variety of dishes, such as tajines, soups, cakes and desserts. What did surprise me were the couscous fritters that I found at a tiny food stall in an alleyway in the old city. Small and spicy, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, they were served hot in a newspaper wrapping and gobbled up in a moment.


Couscous fritters with pumpkin, sage and goat cheese. 
Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche

Although the fritters in Marrakesh were prepared with real couscous, they can also be prepared with instant couscous that has been ground up into small grains. Its quality is excellent and its taste is quite close to the original and, most important, it is easy to work with.

The beauty of these fritters is that you can prepare them salty, with cheese such as ricotta, feta, goat cheese, cottage cheese or Emmental, Gruyère or parmesan, together with mushrooms and vegetables like chard, pumpkin, sweet potato and squash. You can also prepare them sweet by adding honey, date honey, cinnamon, walnuts, chopped dried fruit and rosewater. Sprinkle some confectioner’s sugar on top of the sweet fritters.

The fritters are tastiest when fried in clarified butter, but you can also fry them in sunflower or canola oil. The health-conscious among us can bake the fritters in a hot oven. Either way, they’re best eaten fresh from the oven or the frying pan. And they’re perfect for the Hanukkah holiday.


A food market in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo: Geraint Rowland

Ingredients (makes 25 to 30 fritters):

600 grams pumpkin, peeled and cut into large cubes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (200 grams) fine-grain couscous

1/2 cup (120 ml) boiling water

100 grams soft goat cheese (such as the Gad or Yizra’elit variety)

2 eggs

4 sage leaves, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons fine-grain salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preparation:

Place the pumpkin cubes in a medium-size cooking pot. Fill with enough water to cover the pumpkin cubes, add salt and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Drain and crush the pumpkin cubes with a fork in a strainer until a coarse purée results. In the meantime, place the couscous in a large bowl, pour the half-cup of boiling water over it and mix with a fork. Let the couscous soak for 10 minutes. Mix with a fork until no lumps remain. Add the pumpkin, goat cheese, eggs, sage and all the spices and mix well. Place into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Moisten hands slightly and roll the mixture into small balls (the size of an apricot). Flatten into a disc shape half a centimeter thick and place on a plate.

Frying: Pour a thin, uniform layer of clarified butter or oil into a frying pan. Heat over a high flame and place the fritters in the pan. Lower the flame and sauté each side for five to six minutes until nicely browned, and then place on an absorbent paper towel. If the oil runs out, add a little more before each round of frying.

Baking: Heat oven as if for grilling. Line a baking pan with a layer of aluminum foil greased with olive oil or clarified butter. Bake in the center of the oven for seven to 10 minutes on each side. If you are baking, I recommend greasing your hands slightly and rolling the fritters between them.

Serve with tehina or yogurt spiced with finely chopped chives and lemon zest.


Couscous fritters with cauliflower and feta cheese. 
Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche

Ingredients (makes 30 fritters):

1 medium-size cauliflower (600 grams after stem is removed), washed and separated into florets

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (200 grams) fine-grain couscous

1/2 cup (120 ml) boiling water

100 grams sheep feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 container sour cream

2 eggs

4 tablespoons chives or scallions, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pinch nutmeg

Preparation:

Place the cauliflower florets in a medium-size cooking pot, fill with enough water to cover the cauliflower, add salt and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain and crush the florets with a fork in the strainer until a coarse purée results. In the meantime, place the couscous in a large bowl, pour the half-cup of boiling water over it and mix with a fork. Let the couscous soak for 10 minutes. Mix with a fork until no lumps remain. Add the cauliflower, feta cheese, sour cream, eggs, chives and all the spices and mix well. Place into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Moisten hands slightly and roll the mixture into small balls (the size of an apricot). Flatten into a disc shape half a centimeter thick and place on a plate.

Frying: Pour a thin, uniform layer of clarified butter or oil into a frying pan. Heat over a high flame and place the fritters in the pan. Lower the flame and sauté each side for five to six minutes until nicely browned, and then place on an absorbent paper towel. If the oil runs out, add a little more before each round of frying.

Baking: Heat oven as if for grilling. Line a baking pan with a layer of aluminum foil greased with olive oil or clarified butter. Bake in the center of the oven for seven to 10 minutes on each side. If you are baking, I recommend greasing your hands slightly and rolling the fritters between them.

Serve with yogurt or sour cream spiced with finely chopped chives and lemon zest.


Couscous fritters with mushrooms and sheep yogurt. 
Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche

Ingredients (makes 20 to 25 fritters):

1 small basket of solid white champignon mushrooms

1 cup (200 grams) fine-grain couscous

1/2 cup (120 ml) boiling water

70 grams (1 cup) Emmental or Gruyère cheese, finely shredded

1 container sheep or goat yogurt (5 tablespoons - 150 grams)

2 eggs

4 scallions, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fine-grain salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pinch nutmeg

Preparation:

Clean the mushrooms with an absorbent paper towel and remove the stems. Slice thinly. Place the couscous into a large bowl, pour the boiling water over it and mix with a fork. Let soak for 10 minutes. Mix with a fork until no lumps remain. Add the mushrooms, cheese, yogurt, eggs, scallion and all the spices and mix well. Place into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Moisten hands slightly and roll the mixture into small balls (the size of an apricot). Flatten into a disc shape half a centimeter thick and place on a plate.

Frying: Pour a thin, uniform layer of clarified butter or oil into a frying pan. Heat over a high flame and place the fritters in the pan. Lower the flame and sauté each side for five to six minutes until nicely browned, and then place on an absorbent paper towel. If the oil runs out, add a little more before each round of frying.

Baking: Heat oven as if for grilling. Line a baking pan with a layer of aluminum foil greased with olive oil or clarified butter. Bake in the center of the oven for seven to 10 minutes on each side. If you are baking, I recommend greasing your hands slightly and rolling the fritters between them.

Serve with yogurt or sour cream spiced with finely chopped chives and lemon zest.