Easy Italian Couscous Recipe With Minced Meat and Vegetables
Looking for a recipe that's cheap, nutritious and involves hardly any effort to make?
I discovered this recipe at my local supermarket where a lady was making a traditional, everyday Italian couscous dish in an electric frypan over low heat. It smelled so good, I had to have a taste and excitedly scribbled down the recipe to try at home. She was promoting an expensive brand of pearl couscous, but eventually I found a far cheaper alternative in Turkish and Middle Eastern couscous varieties.
This is a fantastic meal option for people on a budget. It’s great in winter, very filling and you can make a whole week’s worth of meals in one large pot if you like. Kids love it and it’s easy to eat (hardly any chewing required). It’s nutritious, has an interesting texture, is very easy to make and offers a versatile main meal as you can use any meat, vegetables or herbs you might already have in your kitchen. Single people and students will love this recipe as well - it only has to be made once on the stove top then refrigerated/frozen in portions for all your meals, saving tons of time and money.
I have adapted the original Italian couscous to suit my taste, as the original recipe uses curry powder and more vegetables than I like. The everyday Italian couscous doesn’t have meat in it and this can get boring if you’re a carnivore and plan to eat it for a whole week at a time (I often do). However, you can stick to a vegetarian one if you like.
Why I love this recipe...
- Easy and quick to make
- Cooked in one pot, on a stove
- Nutritious and filling
- Suits both singles and families
- Travels well for work lunches
- Freezes and microwaves well
- Very affordable
- Can be vegetarian if desired
- Minimal washing up
- Good winter meal
- 1 cup of dry couscous
- 1 handful of minced beef
- 1 red or green capsicum
- 1 truss tomato
- 1 carrot
- 1 brown onion
- Spring onions
- 1 tbsp margarine or butter
- 1 tbsp olive or canola oil
- Fresh or dried herbs and spices
Obtaining The Couscous
Major supermarkets stock couscous at up to AU$7 per packet. If you hunt down a Turkish or Middle Eastern grocery shop, you can find packets of dried couscous for as little as AU99c a packet. This would be equivalent to 12 portions for AU99c - a terrific bargain!
Look for couscous around 3mm in diameter and it should be made from semolina durum wheat. The instructions should say to boil and simmer it. Some brands of couscous I like are Ankara (used for this recipe) and Ulker Bizim Mutfak.
I expect Italian grocers would stock this type of couscous too. If you're in a pinch, you can use pearl couscous, but it is more expensive (at least it is in Australia).
Step 1: Sauté Onions, Meat & Vegetables
Place one tablespoon of margarine in a large tureen on low heat. Dice the brown onion and add it to the pot, adjusting heat to medium. Stir occasionally until slightly browned. Meanwhile, chop capsicum, carrot and tomato into small bits.
When onion is a little browned, add 1 tablespoon of olive or canola oil to the pot and add the minced meat. Stir/break up meat with wooden spoon and cook, stirring until all meat is completely browned. Add capsicum and tomato and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add carrot. Cook for a further 2 minutes, then add 1 cup of couscous to the pot. Stir for about 1 minute, letting couscous soak up oils and flavours. Do not allow couscous to burn.
Notes: You can use any minced meat you like, though beef mince gives a lovely flavour with vegetables. I add the carrot last because the capsicum and tomato are for flavour, but I like my carrots to be a bit solid rather than boiled mushy in the final result.
Step 2: Simmer & Flavour
Add 3 cups of water to the pot and stir. Turn heat up to high, boil mixture, then reduce heat to low/medium simmer. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, add the herbs and spices (chop up parsley and spring onions and add to pot, while reserving some for garnishing).
The couscous will expand in size as it simmers. If you need to stop the mix from burning, just add half a cup of water at a time. You'll know it's ready when it is a much larger size and turns a bit translucent. Taste test it to see if it is soft - it should be very soft.
Notes On Herbs & Spices
You can add any combination of herbs and spices you like. The original Italian couscous recipe uses 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder and some dried basil, oregano, black pepper, salt and a vegetable stock cube.
It's fun to experiment with this - add heat or flavour to suit your taste! Don't forget to test taste your results to avoid overdosing...I've accidentally made a few funny couscous dishes before and overdoing the curry powder is awful.
Herbs & Spices In This Recipe
This particular recipe tastes absolutely delicious and required the following herbs and spices:
- Beef stock cube
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp of dried basil
- 1/2 tsp of dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp powdered nutmeg
- A couple of chopped fresh basil leaves
Herbs & Spices Inspiration
Try the following recipe variations:
- Lamb mince, eggplant, mixed herbs and a hint of sage and nutmeg.
- Try adding a handful of sunflower or pistachio seeds to sautee with the onion.
Get ready to eat!
The final outcome is a couscous dish that is self-contained, a bit like a risotto. There should be no runny liquids (stir the mixture and liquids should "vanish") and you should be able to spoon it out into a bowl or onto a plate easily and add a garnish. If it's too runny, keep it simmering for longer, though you can lose delicate flavours by doing this.
Makes 4 generous servings. Double the amount of ingredients in this recipe for a week's worth of dinners.
© 2015 Suzanne Day