Lemony Saffron Couscous

My grandparents were two of my very best friends. I was blessed to have them in my life for almost three decades. Now that they’re gone, their spirit inspires my cooking in unexpected ways.

Grandma and Grandpa Avey were married on February 1, 1934, and they celebrated 73 wedding anniversaries together. They were married during the Great Depression, which meant that frugality was the top priority. Grandma sewed her own wedding dress– a simple frock, with a big beautiful bow on the front and flowers around the waist.

My grandparents on their wedding day, February 1, 1934

My grandma Lois was a very creative woman. She loved to paint and knit and sew. She played piano and loved the classical composers… Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach. Grandpa Clarence was a history buff, he was like a walking encyclopedia. World history was his favorite, particularly classical and ancient history. He could tell you anything you wanted to know about Ancient Rome and Greece, early Christianity, Medieval Europe, the Crusades and the Renaissance. When you see me exploring the history of food on my website, you have my grandpa to thank. He helped me catch the “history bug” when I was just a little girl.

Growing up, I was lucky to be able to visit my grandparents on a regular basis. They were like another set of parents to me. My grandpa used to tell me I was the “daughter they never had.” They had raised three sons before my grandpa retired. My dad was the youngest son of the three, and I am his only child. When I was born, my grandparents moved to be closer to us, and they became a major part of my childhood. Being with them was like a vacation… I looked forward to sleeping over at their house a few times a month. Grandma and I would paint, play piano, and sew, then Grandpa would take me out to the garden to pull weeds and pick fresh tomatoes. After dinner they would tell me stories and show me slides from their world travels. Their favorite thing to do was see the distant countries that my grandpa had read so much about.

Grandma and Grandpa Avey take a trip on the Orient Express, 1996

My grandparents were frugal in most areas of their life, saving their money so they could travel all over the globe. They didn’t just stick to the normal touristy places… London, Paris, Rome… they ventured into areas that most people only dream about. Egypt, Israel, Morocco, India, Nepal, Hungary, Turkey, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Japan… and these are just the countries that immediately come to mind. I’m sure there were many others. For six years in the 1970’s, they lived in Spain in a house called “Playa de Aro.” They used it as a home base for exploring Europe in a VW camper bus. They moved back to the U.S. before I was born, and built a replica of their Spanish adobe in the mountains above Santa Cruz, CA. But they continued to travel, going on at least one trip per year. Every time my grandparents left the country, they would bring me back a doll from the exotic places they visited. By the time I was 12 my collection was very large indeed.

Part of my international doll collection

At age 13, it was my turn. My grandparents took me and my cousin Mark on a tour of Europe, just as they had with all of their children and grandchildren. You see, Grandma and Grandpa loved exploring the world. They wanted more than anything to share that passion with the people they loved.

My trip to Europe with Grandma and Grandpa, 1992

My grandma knew how to cook, but it wasn’t her favorite pastime. One thing I do remember about my grandma’s cooking was her love of couscous. When I was a kid, couscous was pretty uncommon here in the U.S. My grandparents had tried it on a trip to Morocco, and they fell in love with the delicate texture. My grandma liked serving it as an alternative to rice or potatoes. In our California countryside community, she had to travel to a special health food store to find the instant couscous that has become so common in today’s grocery stores. She was ahead of her time.

Grandma Avey rides a camel in Morocco

When I created this couscous dish a couple of years ago, I found myself thinking about my grandma. The dish seems like a reflection of her spirit. The bright yellow of the saffron was her favorite color. The lemon essence is bright and cheerful, just like her personality. The pine nuts remind me of the pine-covered ranch where she raised my dad and his brothers in Northern California. And that touch of cayenne is the spice that made her special. She was classy, kind, beautiful, and smart as a whip– just like my grandpa. They were two peas in a perfect, predestined pod… the definition of soul mates.

Grandma and Grandpa on their 70th wedding anniversary

I like to serve this couscous on a blue glass plate. My grandma collected blue glass. Everything about this dish reminds me of her.

Today would have been their 78th wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa Avey. I miss you every day.

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Lemony Saffron Couscous

Ingredients

  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken broth (use "no chicken" broth to make it vegetarian/pareve)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups instant couscous (about one 12 oz. box)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • Small pinch of cayenne pepper (optional-- adds spice)
  • Salt

You will also need

  • Spice mortar and pestle, large saucepan with tight fitting lid, skillet, large mixing bowl
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 25 Minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes
Servings: 8 side portions
Kosher Key: Meat or Pareve depending on broth used
  • Pour saffron threads into a mortar and crush them into powder. Pour 1/4 cup hot water over the saffron and let it soak for five minutes.
  • Pour the saffron water into a large saucepan along with chicken broth (use "no chicken" broth to keep it vegetarian), 1 tsp salt, lemon zest, and 2 tbsp olive oil. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the instant couscous to the boiling broth and stir. Bring back to a boil, then immediately cover and remove from heat. Let the couscous steam in the pot for 8-10 minutes till tender.
  • Meanwhile, pour pine nuts into a skillet and roast them over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, till they are toasted light brown and release some of their natural oils. Watch the nuts carefully, they can easily burn if left unattended.
  • Pour the toasted pine nuts into a large mixing bowl along with the chopped cilantro and garbanzo beans.
  • Use a fork to fluff the couscous in the pan, then scrape the couscous into the mixing bowl with the fork, fluffing the couscous as you go. Use a fork or clean hands to mix all ingredients till thoroughly combined, breaking up any clumps of couscous that may have formed.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, and a very small pinch of cayenne pepper. Pour the dressing from the small bowl into the couscous mixture. Toss with a fork to thoroughly coat. Taste and season with additional lemon juice or salt, if desired.
  • May be served warm or at room temperature. I like to make this couscous with chicken broth to give it a rich, savory flavor. If you're a vegetarian/vegan or wish to keep the salad pareve, use a mock chicken broth like Imagine Organic No Chicken Broth.

Comments (23)Post a Comment

  1. Aw Tori you made me well up and that’s not easy to do. I was so moved by your recollections of your grandparents. Thanks for sharing that part of your life with us. I really enjoyed seeing the photos. The dish is remarkable and meaningful. Food with a story behind it always made me smile. Much love. xx

  2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    What a beautiful remembrance of your Grandparents on their anniversary. Thank you for sharing their story and such a delicious recipe made in their honor. I can’t wait to try it!

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori, how lucky you are to have had such wonderful grandparents in your life! I just loved reading this story about them and their adventures. Your grandma was quite fashion forward, and her wedding dress is fabulous! What a great life they led, all their travels, pursuing their passions that included their children and grandchildren.

    I can’t wait to try this couscous recipe with my next tagine dish, maybe chicken and olives. I love lemon anything! I will think of your grandparents when I make it, thank you for sharing it.

  4. What a love filled beautiful post about your fabulous globetrotting grandparents. This couscous looks so flavorful and elegant laid out on that lovely blue plate.

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This is a really beautiful dish, not just in it’s appearance, but in the deft blending of ingredients. At first, the cilantro seemed wrong to me (thinking mint or parsley or both would be better), but as I thought about it, the touch of cayenne and cilantro seemed a nice spark to the the grainy couscous and thickly flavored chickpea. I haven’t made this yet, but I read recipes like music; and to be sure, this is a tasty melody you have created.

  6. Tori, your childhood memories of your grandparents had me choking back tears. What an incredibly beautiful tribute, to your incredible grandparents, by a beautiful and remarkable granddaughter. They must be so proud of you. I know this dish will be dedicated in the hearts of all who serve it, to your Grama and Grandpa Avey. Thank you for sharing. One of the most touching dedications I’ve ever read. ;o)

  7. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori…Thanks so much for sharing your great tribute to Mom and Dad!!
    Great photos, too. I remember Mom trying out her new found recipes on us every time we visited…yum, yum.
    You’ve got a great website and are really getting around with your TV appearances!

    Love, Uncle Gary

  8. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Oh wow Tori – such great memories and wonderful photos. I remember your grandparents so generously also took my mom (your Grandma Lois’ sister Rita) to Europe after my father passed away. My mom spoke fondly of how wonderful the trip was and how much she learned from your Grandad and Grandma. Thanks so much for sharing this – I am sharing it with my brother and sisters and their offspring. I am curious – where is the house that they built in the Santa Cruz area (I live here in Santa Cruz and would love to find the home)? What should we serve with the couscous? Maybe a kabob?
    Best regards,
    Gil
    B

  9. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This was so great to read about my aunt and uncle…so much I never knew. I remember the ranch and staying there with my family once when Aunt Lois and Uncle Clary traveled to Europe. We had a fantastic time and created some very wonderful memories there. Panned for gold in the stream, swam in the pond, hiked all over, saw the grinding stones behind the house, and loved exploring the 100 yr old house on the property. My mom your Great Aunt Rita was lucky enough to go on a trip with your grandparents to Europe one time and it was one of the highlights of her life, she was so greatful to them to include her on their travels. I never knew your parents anniversary date coincidence my bd is Feb. 1. Warm Regards to your family, Kerry

  10. I have to give a credit!!! You never forgot your gratitude for your grand parents.How much couscous contain carb?

    Thank You!
    Prakash Suthar

  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori- I just finnished making this Lemony Saffron Couscous and it is delightful! I did not have any saffron, so I substituted a bit ot turmeric to get some good yellow color, and it worked just fine… the flavors are such a nice subtle blend, not too lemony but just enough…
    I’ve just recently discovered your blog from a link on Facebook and have been trying out some of the recipes, which are great! I especially liked “Jacob’s Lentil Stew”!
    Thank you for offering such delicious and healrthy recipes; I have recently been following a vegan diet, and your recipes are perfect to adapt…Shalom!

  12. What a beautiful tribute to your grandparents! I am the grandmother of four young kids and have become very conscious of what memories they’ll have of me when I am gone. I can’t afford trips to Europe for them, but there will be sleepovers, Bubbe’s matzoh ball soup, lots of kisses, dinner together at my house every Sunday night, etc. Your tribute makes me feel that I won’t be forgotten. Thanks.

  13. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Honoring your grandparents in such a beautiful (and practical!) way really touched me deeply. I too have MANY recipes that my Babcia passed on to me, and which I have passed on to my Daughter and Daughter In Law (My Son insisted!). the only change I made to the recipe was substituting Parsley for the Cilantro ( I get nasty tongue swellings with Cilantro..eek!)

    It has now become one of Our family recipes!

    thank you and Many blessings!

    DD

  14. Tori, I make couscous all the time and look for different recipes. But what are saffron threads and where do I puchase it? Haven’t heard of this before.

  15. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Hi Tori, I made this last night and used Israeli couscous instead of the smaller kind. It came out so nice, wow what a symphony of flavors. Thank you for all of your wonderful recipes.

  16. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Tori,
    Thank you for this recipe and the wonderful remembrance of your grandparents. A couple of years ago I probably would have had a different reaction to it, but since then both my parents have passed away and I completely understand the part about your missing them every day. How wonderful that you were able to weave a tribute to them with this recipe you developed, and manner of serving, with them in mind. I was looking for recipes with both couscous and saffron in them, thinking this would be quite good — and was drawn to the “lemony” part in your recipe. I look forward to trying it soon! But I may just try some variations, as I am wont to do. Perhaps some nicely sauteed onion, or scallions would round out the flavors even more? The cilantro sounds lovely, but I think parsley might also be worth a try. We’ll see!

  17. I started out looking for a saffron couscous recipe and came across your page. My grandparents were married 72 years, so their story is likely similar to that of your grandparents. My grandmother passed away at over 101 years of age (possibly 103, there is a discrepancy in the records of the time.) I couldn’t read your whole page, as a tear came to eye, and I have supper to make!! But I will. Thanks

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