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Crispy saffron couscous cakes

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

The combination of saffron and couscous is divine and this recipe from Ottolenghi brings out these flavours beautifully. We see couscous more commonly as a salad or served as a side with Mediterranean stews, I wanted to highlight couscous in a different light. I serve these cakes with olives, extra feta on the side and Smoked tomato sauce. This dish is a perfect pairing for some grilled lamb chops or other meat. Couscous has been a staple in the Middle East and North Africa for centuries, the first written use of this ingredient is from the 13th century. One reason for the abundant use of this ingredient is its small size, nutritional value and ease with which you can cook it, especially in the desert as nomads or travellers through this region did. Here is a wonderful article on the history of couscous.

I also love saffron, and yes I use a ton of it every year. I love the subtle aroma, taste and complexity of flavours it brings to savoury (Indian, Mediterranean, Turkish, Spanish, and Persian) dishes, both sweet and savoury.

This recipe is from a cookbook I really enjoy, both to peruse and to cook from. This recipe illustrates the wonderful recipes contained within these pages. Ottolenghi's cookbooks belong on everyone's bookshelves.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.


½ tsp saffron threads

1 1/2 cups couscous



1 tablespoon olive oil

3-4 tablespoons of barberries

4 tbsp caster sugar

1/2-3/4 cup Greek yoghurt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

20-25 stems of fresh chives, chopped

1 cup feta, crumbled into 1cm chunks

Salt and black pepper to taste

About 4 tbsp clarified butter or ghee, oil, or a mix

Read the instructions on the box of couscous for the ratio of water you need for the couscous. Put the saffron in a pot and add the water and heat to a gentle simmer for 10 seconds. Allow the saffron to steep for 10-15 minutes. Add the couscous, salt, and oil and cook the couscous as recommended by the manufacturer. Fluff with a fork to get delicious grains of couscous.

Meanwhile, put the barberries in a small saucepan. Add 1/4 cup water, bring to a light simmer, and remove from the heat. Once cool, drain the barberries and dry them on kitchen paper.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork, then add the yoghurt, eggs, chives, feta, barberries, salt and black pepper. Mix well, the couscous should be wet and have a consistency that will allow it to stick together in a patty. Shape into firm round patties about 1/2 inch thick and 1 1/2-2 inches in diameter; press and compact them well, so they don't disintegrate. Make a small patty, about 1 teaspoon in size, and fry in clarified butter as a taster. Adjust for salt and herbs.

Heat two tablespoons of clarified butter or oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and fry the patties in batches, adding more butter as needed. Cook each batch for five minutes, turning once, until crisp and golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pan so you have lots of space to flip the patties and they fry well in the oil. Crowding them tends to make them steam rather than fry. Transfer to kitchen paper. Serve while they're still warm With the Smoked tomato sauce.

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