Thursday, 3 February 2011

Libyan Couscous with Fish: Kusksi bil Hoot كسكس بالسمك على الطريقة اليبية

Couscous is an Amazighi dish served throughout North Africa, and there is an enormous variety of sauces and methods of preparation in the region. In Libya the sauce is most often  tomato-based, although with different toppings, there is for example a root vegetable couscous, coucous with dried meat, coucous with busla (onion sauce), couscous with chicken, with chickpeas and raisins, with squid, and with a variety of fish. In seafood coucous, the vegetables are often fried in oil, then added to the tomatoes sauce, in this recipe I have replaced frying with grilling.

Serves 4-6
Steamed Couscous:
500g couscous (ready-cooked variety can also be steamed)
1 cup of hot water + 3 tbspoon olive oil
1-2 fish heads (washed, gills removed)
1 medium onion, chopped 
1 medium tomato, chopped  
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground cumin
salt, to taste
1 1/2-2 litre boiling water
Vegetable sauce
1 medium onion cut into wings
1 medium size potatoes 
1 medium size aubergine 
1 medium size squash 
1 medium size red bell pepper
1cup cooked/canned chickpeas (or fresh/frozen peas)  
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbspoon tomatoes paste
5 tbspoon olive oil  
1-2 chilli pepper
3-4 garlic cloves
For the Fish and Marinade:
4-6 portions of firm fleshed fish, grouper is the Libyan favourite
4 large cloves garlic
4 tbspoon lemon 
1 chilli pepper chopped 
1 cup chopped celery (optional )
1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
Olive oil to brush the fish before grilling 

Ideally steamed dishes or Imbawakh (an important category in Libyan cuisine) should be cooked in a kaskas, but any pot with a fitted steamer is fine. When steaming couscous you can place a square of cheese-cloth between the pot and steamer as its holes are larger than a kaskas, but from experience even without you will only lose a few grains.

 Put all the ingredients for the stock in the steamer pot. Bring to boil then reduce the heat and cook on medium heat. 

Pour 1 cup of hot water and the 3 tbspoon olive oil over the couscous, mix well. Put the couscous in the steamer, then place it above the stock pot. Lightly rake over the top layer only with a spatula a few times during the first steaming, so it gets steamed properly.

Put all the ingredients for the fish marinade in the food-processor, then use this paste to coat the fish from both sides. Cover the fish with cling film and set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Put the fish on a hot tray, grill until golden in colour, and keep warm to serve with the couscous.

After about 45 minutes, the stock will be ready. Remove the steamer and put the couscous in a deep plate,  pour about 5 ladles of hot stock onto the  couscous.

 Mix well, then return the couscous to the steamer for another 45 minutes. Stir lightly thoroughly 2-3 times during the second steaming to break up lumps.

Brush the vegetable generously with olive oil,  place on a pre-heated tray and grill (or fry the vegetables).

Meanwhile, begin preparing the sauce by putting olive oil, chopped onion, chopped chilli and whole garlic cloves in the pot, then stir until they have softened. Add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes, cover  and cook on low heat.

 Remove the vegetables from the grill at this point ( half done), and add to the onion and garlic mix in the pot.

 Add the peas/cooked chickpeas and about 3 ladles of strained fish stock, so the liquid is just about covering the vegatables, and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Remove the couscous from the steamer, add about 2 ladles of sauce from the vegtable sauce pot ( avoid the peas and onion), mix well. Put the couscous in a serving dish, arrange the vegetables above the couscous, spoon some of the remaining sauce around the vegetable.  Serve with the grilled fish and lemon wedges.  

Coucous is usually served in a communal dish in Libya. However if you want to serve couscous on individual plates, a suggested presentation is to arrange the vegetable in the base of a bowl, fill with couscous, spoon some sauce on top, leave for 1 minute and then turn upside down on a flat plate.

16th Mediterranean cooking event - Libya - tobias cooks! - 10.01.2011-10.02.2011


  1. thank you for sharing this recept- real perfect description -couscous - wonderful to smell and to serve and eat.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the recipe, african queen! Thank you for visiting the blog and commenting :)