Saffron-scented Vegetable Couscous with North African-spiced Halibut

January  6, 2010
6 Ratings
Photo by Nicole Franzen
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This dish has a lovely combination of flavors -- saffron couscous is combined with cauliflower and fennel; bright herbs and olives; warmly-spiced fish; and a splash of tart lemon juice. The fish marinade riffs on couscous' North African origins, using some of the ingredients often found in the Ras Al Hanout spice blend, along with garlic and lemon in an oil-based paste. The savory-sweet combination compliments the slightly fusty edge in the couscous from the saffron and fennel. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients -- it'll just take a few minutes to rifle through your spice cabinet. There are admittedly a few steps, but the result transforms some common ingredients into an exciting dish. —deensiebat

What You'll Need
  • Halibut
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, presed or minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 pound halibut
  • Couscous
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into bite-sized wedges
  • 1/2 small cauliflower, cored and broken into bite-sized florets
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous)
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup green olives, quartered
  • 1 handful parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 handful cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon, cut in wedges
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Assemble the halibut marinade: in a bowl large enough to accommodate the halibut, mix together the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and spices. Taste, adding more salt if desired. Add the halibut, spooning the marinade over the top. Marinate at room temperature for ~30 minutes (the marinade has citrus, so you don't want to over-marinate for fear of mushy fish).
  3. When the fish has marinated, transfer it into a baking dish. Scrape out any remaining spice paste from the marinade dish, and spread thickly on top of the fillets. Bake until the fish is done and flakes easily, 25-30 minutes.
  4. While the halibut is baking, prepare the vegetable couscous. Heat a large pot over a high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then add the fennel and cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to caramelize and develop light brown spots. Add a few tablespoons water and cover to steam, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender (2-5 minutes). Remove from pot, and place in a large serving bowl.
  5. In the same pot, add the remaining tablespoon olive oil. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally, until the couscous toasts and darkens slightly (just a couple minutes). Add 2 1/2 cups water, crumble in the saffron, and add the salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower the heat just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender, ~10 minutes.
  6. While the couscous is cooking, assemble the remaining ingredients. Add the olives, parsley, and cilantro to the serving dish with the cooked cauliflower and fennel. When the couscous is done, tip it into the bowl with the herbs and vegetables, and toss well. Scoop the couscous onto plates, and top with the marinated halibut. Serve with lemon wedges.
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15 Reviews

Lucas4Food September 16, 2020
Last night I made the couscous for my family with a different fish. The couscous was a winner, the whole family loved it. I did not have saffron and used tumeric instead.
Lucas4Food September 16, 2020
Made the couscous for my family with a different fish. The couscous was a winner, the whole family loved it. I did not have saffron and used tumeric instead.
Vfscotti July 3, 2020
Lovely dinner! I roasted vegetables in the oven instead of sautéed and steamed. Thought it provided more flavor and could do ahead.
NXL January 17, 2020
The vegetables in this were fantastic. The 'rub' for the fish was too runny to stay on. I imagine just enough oil to moisten things would have been plenty. I didn't care for the warm spices with the fish.
Terri M. February 16, 2019
Not a repeat for me. I liked the marinade but wrong protein. Used less oil as mentioned in earlier comments but I thought it overpowered the sweet light fish. I shouldn't have 'spread it on thickly' (step 3) but on a positive note, I scraped it into the couscous to provide some much needed seasoning.
Lola September 5, 2015
OK, though a lot of work for the outcome. Agree that a drier rub would be more flavorful. Would chop the vegetable finer next time. I had to add Allepo pepper to the couscous to give it some zing.
plainhomecook May 19, 2014
Everything smelled lovely as I was cooking, though the marinade had a bit too much cinnamon, and so was a bit too bitter, for my taste. The couscous was great, though; I substituted broccoli for the cauliflower because that's what I had and because I thought some more green would look nice on the plate.
lich March 8, 2014
Just delicious! I did not add the amount of oil the recipe called for...I poured in less, which made it more of a rub. The combination with the couscous was perfect. A great dish for Lent on a Friday night!
Ann P. November 8, 2013
I only made the halibut, not the couscous, but I thought it was lovely. I made a couple of pounds, so was able to enjoy leftovers. It was great for turning a salad into an entree, then made for a nice lunch with peach kefir as a sauce, and finally I added the last bit to some canned tomato soup. All tasty!
Jaxmccaff April 7, 2013
I was surprised that the marinade didn't pack more punch. I think I would reduce the amount of oil next time to make it more of a rub and see if the flavour permeates a bit more. I substituted quinoa for the couscous which was delicious.
JuliaBeck April 7, 2013
This was our Friday night family dinner -- a perfect ending to the week. I added cumin and a bit more salt / black pepper to the couscous.
Lisa H. March 13, 2013
I used coarse grind bulgur instead of couscous, and I don't like olives, so I substituted an equal amount of preserved lemons. It was absolutely delicious!
HeatherM January 31, 2012
Okay, I made too many unfortunate substitutions in these recipes (why oh why isn't Israeli couscous more widely available? it's awesome!) but I did want to comment that the braised fennel was a lovely surprise. I don't normally care for anise family flavors but my boyfriend and I both found it surprising and tasty.
Sagegreen January 29, 2012
This worked out great. I loved your directions. I made this using haddock instead of halibut, so marinaded it just over 20 minutes. It held up perfectly in the oven. Wonderful recipe. I think I would make twice as much fish next time, with so much couscous. Instead of water I used a homemade fish stock which worked out really well. I would personally tone down the coriander next time, since I am more of a cumin fan, but my company just loved everything about this as is. Thanks for a great recipe!
healthierkitchen April 12, 2010
This sounds great. Sorry I missed it until now. Will try soon!