Spice Master: Contestant #1


Editors Note:  I’ve got to be honest.  So I hadn’t cooked in a while and was trying to think of something I could post on ES.  And then I remembered those kick-ass spices that I got from Gypsy‘s travels to Tunisia.  Contest – now that’s an easy post.  I had no idea that people would actually try to figure out that impossible 12.  Especially for the lame prize of pre-made seasoning packets – basically the most opposite item anyone savvy enough to enter the contest would actually want. 

Regardless, after checking the entries, we had a tie.  And without even asking the co-winners, we decided to ride out the enthusiasm of the Spice Master Contest.  So here we are, we demanded that ES readers guess spices they couldn’t even smell and now we’ve demanded that the co-winners give us recipes based on those same foreign spices.  Luckily, both bobby (aka bobbyc) and JoeHoya took this opportunity to send in breathtaking recipes.  Thank you to both.  

 So here we are with bobby’s Tunsian recipe.  Tomorrow we’ll post JoeHoya’s recipe.  And on Wednesday we’ll offer you a chance to vote for the winner in a special Who Cooked It Better: Spice Master Edition.  Stay tuned. 

Spice Master Contender: bobby

Typically when I cook a new dish, I look at a bunch of different recipes, get an understanding of the basic concept of the dish, keep the essential ingredients the same, and play around with the rest. For Coucha (spelled Koucha in some references), I couldn’t find any recipes — only descriptions. Odd, since most references describe it as a “Tunisian favorite.” The basic idea seems to involve cooking a young lamb shoulder smothered in oil and spices at low heat in a sealed earthen vessel — similar to a Moroccan tajine. The low heat for an extended period of time breaks down the fat, making everything delicious, and the sealed vessel keeps everything super-moist.


I built my own clay vessel out of flower pots at Lowes — just had to make sure everything sealed fairly well.

From the rest of my reading on Tunisian cuisine, I gathered that nearly every meal is served with couscous. It is prepared in a special couscoussière, which steams the grains while you cook a stew of meat, vegetables and spices below. I didn’t have one of these, so I put the couscous in boiling chicken broth, then mixed in an assortment of spiced vegetables.

To finish everything off, I mixed up some harissa — spicy pepper & garlic sauce. From what I gather, harissa is the ketchup of Tunisia, only with flavor.

Click through: full recipe, more pics, serving suggests

Tunisian Coucha and Vegetable Couscous with Harissa

3 lb. lamb shoulder
Extra virgin olive oil

fresh rosemary sprigs
cayenne pepper
sea salt
1 large terra-cotta pot (no holes!)

Vegetable Couscous
2 cups couscous
2 cups chicken broth
curry powder
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
2 carrots
3 small potatoes (parboiled)
1 medium white onion
1 green bell pepper
3 roma tomatoes


2-3 Ancho chili peppers
8-12 dry red chili peppers
10-12 garlic cloves
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 T ground coriander
1 T sea salt
1 T ground caraway
1 t cumin

Mix turmeric, cayenne, dried thyme, sea salt, and paprika together, then rub it all over the lamb shoulder. Smother in olive oil. Let sit for about 30-60 minutes. Place lamb into terra-cotta pot with the fatty side up, add sprigs of fresh rosemary, then cover with lid to form a good seal. Cook for about 4 hours in a 225F oven on the lowest rack.

Soak the dried chiles in warm water for about 30 minutes, then take off the stems. Leave as many seeds as you think you can handle. Put all ingredients into a food processor — go to town. Consistency should be close to chunky tomato paste.

Vegetable Couscous
Prepare the couscous as normal: bring chicken broth to a boil, add 2 cups of couscous. Remove from heat and cover. Fluff with fork. Meanwhile, cut vegetables into bite-size pieces. Coat in olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, cumin and curry powder. Drop vegetables into preheated pan and cook for about 6 minutes — enough to warm them. Thin out some of the harissa with more olive oil, then mix it into the couscous. Mix about half the vegetables into the couscous as well, saving some to serve on top.


To Serve
Pile the couscous on a large serving platter, add some additional vegetables on top, drop the lamb in the center. Pour some of the liquid remaining from cooking the lamb over the top. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges, and some extra harissa on the side.

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  • JoeHoya September 15, 2008  

    Wow. This is impressive on so many levels, Bobby. I looked at koucha as I was trying to decide what to make, too, but it looks like you really knocked it out of the park.

    And by my count you used 8 of the 12 spices in the packet over the course of the three recipes.

    My hat is off to you, sir.

  • bobby September 15, 2008  

    Thanks! I believe it was 8 of 12 spices. The dish ended up being extremely delicious — can’t attest to it’s authenticity, though. Four of us nearly devoured the entire platter in one sitting. Also, harissa tastes good on EVERYTHING.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing what you put together.

  • Rooms September 15, 2008  

    I need to know more about this impromptu clay cooker!! I’m so impressed. I’ve been coveting my parents Romertopf (http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bild:Roemertopf-r-.jpg&filetimestamp=20070101162909) for years now, but maybe I don’t have to shell out 150 duckets after all!

  • bobbyc September 15, 2008  

    All from Lowe’s for under $20. There are 3 pieces, the big round portion and a base of equal diameter. There is a hole in the bottom of the large bowl, so a smaller base is used to cover it up once it’s inverted. Just be sure to test out the fit of the base and the bowl before buying it. Rotate it around until you find a pair that fits snugly. (Then mark it with a permanent marker.)

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