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Harissa-Spiced Halibut with Couscous

Continuing with our theme this week on the influence of the history of the British Empire on British cookery, we ‘travel’ now to North Africa. From a feature titled New Kitchen Suppers in the March 2010 issue of GoodFood Magazine comes this plateful of delicious goodness — and talk about easy! If you follow the sequence of preparation as laid out below, dinner comes together in well under an hour, each plate brimming with a complementary trio of both visual and gustatory delights. Harissa, a chili paste that hails from North Africa, is used to wonderful effect here to flavor both the halibut and couscous. Rest assured that you can choose the level of spiciness when you shop for it; besides, the herbs and cucumber both serve here to provide a cool foil to its fire. That said, an icy cold gin and tonic is also a welcome partner to this delicious entrée!

Harissa-spiced Halibut with Couscous

1 tbs. harissa paste
1 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. caster sugar (superfine white)
5 fl. oz. plain yogurt, divided
4 x 5 oz. halibut fillets, skinned
1-2 tsp. canola oil

For the Herb Couscous:

9 oz. couscous
10 fl. oz. boiling hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbs. harissa paste
2-3 tbs. ready-made vinaigrette (we use Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette)
large handful flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
large handful mint, leaves chopped
small handful cilantro, leaves chopped

For the Cucumber Salad:

2 cucumbers, peeled
10-12 mint leaves, chopped
squeeze lime juice

Mix the harissa with the olive oil and sugar in a ceramic dish or bowl. Add all but 3 tbs. of the yogurt (reserve this for the cucumber salad) and stir well. Coat the halibut with the spiced yogurt mixture and set aside for at least 10 minutes. (The fish could be kept overnight in the fridge for a more intense flavor.)

For the couscous, measure the couscous into a large bowl then pour over the boiling stock and stir in the harissa. Cover with cling film and leave to soak for 10-15 minutes. Remove the cling film then fluff up the couscous with a fork to separate the grains. Stir in the vinaigrette and herbs and season to taste.

For the cucumber salad, using a swivel vegetable peeler, slice the cucumbers lengthways into long wide strips, avoiding the seeds in the middle. Discard the central block of seeds. Place the cucumber strips in a bowl and mix with the mint, the reserved yogurt, and the lime juice to taste.

Heat the oven to 400 °F. Heat the canola oil in an ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat. Scrape off and reserve the excess marinade from the halibut and place the fillets in the pan. Sear for about 1-1½ minutes on each side until golden brown. Spoon the reserved marinade over the fish then transfer the pan to the oven for a few minutes to finish cooking the fish. Serve on 4 plates drizzled with the pan juices, with the couscous and cucumber salad.

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