Nigella’s Festive Couscous


One of my favorite cookbooks of all time is Nigella Lawson’s, Christmas. I bought it about five years ago, right after I got married, when I was living in England. Mom, Dad and Sharon were coming for Christmas and I was equal parts ecstatic and terrified. I couldn’t wait to have my family in my new home, but the thought of taking the lead on the big dinner made my palms sweat. I needed a holiday meal that was both foolproof and classically British. Who else to go to but Nigella Lawson? She didn’t let me down. I use this book every year.

My mother-in-law was visiting this past weekend and sharing recipes with me that she used to make for the family during the holidays. I couldn’t help but pull out Nigella’s Christmas. She and I sat transfixed, on the edge of the bed, and looked through that book, page by page. It’s simply gorgeous: festive and fun, but classic and warm. Nigella does a Christmas special on BBC every year that makes you want to crawl through the screen and join her in her cozy London home. This woman knows how to celebrate.

As we thumbed through the book, I noticed a small, but beautiful plate of couscous that I hadn’t seen before. Festive Couscous. The recipe was easy, but the dish was gorgeous. Nigella had it as a side, but I thought I’d ever-so-slightly modify the recipe and make it for dinner. For weeknight cooking, I’m looking for simple and delicious, meatless meals that I can get on the table in a hurry and that don’t leave me with a mess.

I served this with a simple salad, bread and a few artisanal cheeses. Andy was delighted and so was I, especially because it gave me a little frisson of excitement: the holidays are coming!

Nigella's Festive Couscous
Serves: 6-8 as a side dish, 4 as a main course
  • 1 box (7.6 ounces) plain couscous
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • Seeds from 1 pomegranate
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  1. Bring water to a boil in a pot, add coucous, 1 tablespoon oil, salt, raisins and spices. Stir to mix. Cover with lid, turn off heat and let sit for about five minutes.
  2. Remove lid, fluff the couscous with a fork, add remaining oil and stir. Reserving some for garnish, stir in pomegranate seeds and cilantro.


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  1. sandy oldfield says

    thanks for this essay, maggie. it reminded me of all the times i doctored boxes of couscous while the kids were growing up with: olives, citrus zest and juice, minced red and green peppers, grated carrot, raisins, chopped nuts, whatever was at hand or left over. the kids’ standard comment was “oh mom cleaned out the bottom of the dishwasher again!” bratty kids!

  2. Julie says

    Thank you for the fun post! I just ordered Nigella’s Chistmas book can’t wait to see it. Your picture could not be more beautiful of the coucous. This will be a fun recipe to try!

  3. Samantha says

    Can I make this without a pomegranate? I have all the ingredients except for that one. Can I top it with almonds or some kind of nut instead?

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