Who knew you could make couscous from scratch? Well, apart from the millions of people doing it all the time, I certainly didn’t! That is until I spent a wonderful day at Gal Winter’s Fantastic Feasts workshop. “Workshop” is not really the right name nor is “class”. Gal did not explicitly instruct us on how to cook the dishes on the menu except for falafel and couscous. It would be best described as a facilitated cooking extravaganza in a fabulous commercial kitchen while in the company of like-minded enthusiasts under the careful eye of an expert, with the washing up and shopping all taken care of!
Most of the other participants were, like me, experienced home cooks. While Lou and Abbie had had a more professional interest as a retired cafe owner, and caterer respectively.
Gal studied Food Science and Biochemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After winning an international scholarship to the University of Western Sydney to research wine fermentation processes, she moved to Australia. She is currently employed at the University of New England, teaching microbiology, biochemistry and nutrition. She also leads an active research project looking into the human microbiome. On top of her academic pursuits, she is a passionate cook, ferments anything that stays still long enough to fit in a jar and runs several workshops in Armidale. In addition to Fantastic Feasts, you can join workshops about fermentation science, the link between fermented food, mood and the microbiome and another about sourdough and yoga!
After some short introductions, we got straight into preparing a long list of could-be Kosher vegetarian delights inspired by the likes of Ottolenghi, Sarah Britton and Gal’s mum! Gal’s Israeli heritage is stamped on all she does, and the menu was based around the dishes she cooks for her family. The menu took me back to my many visits to Israel, especially the falafel served in a split pita with salad, tahini and harissa.
We worked in pairs, and my fabulous buddy Mary and I were tasked with making a warm lentil salad with fermented tomato sauce, and a chocolate-filled yeast cake. Our companions were kept busy making things like baked rice with confit tomatoes and garlic, baked sweet potato, yogurt roasted cauliflower; vine leaf, yogurt and herb pie and a gluten-free orange cake, as well as sundry accompanying sauces and the aforementioned couscous!
Couscous? What’s the fuss fuss?
Gal explained that Israeli cooks make couscous from scratch. No self-respecting Jewish person would be caught dead using packet couscous! The traditional method is apparently long, arduous and multi-stepped. That is until a contestant on the Israeli franchise of Masterchef created a microwave version that takes about 15 minutes. This rocked the couscous world and has gone down in history as a miracle! One media outlet dubbed it as one of the ten most spectacular recipes of the decade!
Being the sort of person who thought couscous only came in a packet; I was pleasantly surprised that, like most foods, couscous tastes so much better when prepared fresh. Essentially you weigh out coarse semolina, add boiling water and a little oil and salt, stir it up, whack it in the microwave for 7 minutes. Next, let it rest until it’s cool enough to handle, and lastly, pass it through a special couscous sieve. A flat sieve, similar to a soil sieve, with 3 mm square holes. The result? Fluffy, little delicately-flavoured “grains” of heaven!
Another five-star fun-filled day! I’d highly recommend joining Gal’s workshops at the next available opportunity.
PS: Thank you to Gal’s son, Ron, for all the washing up! So much washing up!
P.P.S: Added bonus you get to take home your share of the collected goodies!
P.P.PS: Don’t bother having breakfast!