Tunisian Couscous with Over-Easy Eggs & Asparagus

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

An easy way to celebrate the season with a meal you can make in under 17 minutes!

A bunch of asparagus spears on a black background.

With fresh asparagus at its peak right now in and around Ann Arbor, I’m always looking for easier and tastier ways to enjoy it. This is an adaptation of one of Rocco Disderide’s—the man who built what’s now the Deli’s building back in 1902—favorite recipes. The recipe for his spaghetti with basil and butter is in the back of The Power of Beliefs in Business. I made some the other day and it is downright delicious! When asparagus started showing up, this easy adaptation popped into my mind. Tunisian couscous tossed while still hot with room temperature butter, cooked pieces of asparagus, and almonds, all topped with an over-easy egg. The whole thing can be done in under 20 minutes, it looks beautiful, and it tastes terrific. 

As I write extensively in “A Taste of Zingermman’s Food Philosophy,” the quality of the ingredients is critical to the flavor of the finished dish. I did mine with the Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter, beyond terrific couscous we get from the Mahjoub family in Tunisia, and some great local asparagus.

If you haven’t yet tasted the Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter, I’ll encourage you to try it tout suite. Here, its natural nuttiness (which comes with the ripening of the cream) matches up marvelously with the comparable nutty notes of the couscous. Be sure you have it at room temperature before you start cooking. You’ll want a good bit for this dish—a generous tablespoon or more per person.

The Tunisian couscous is comparably world-class! It comes to us from the Mahjoub family’s farm, about an hour outside of Tunis, in the small town of Tebourba. They grow the wheat for the couscous on the farm, mill it, make the resulting semolina flour into couscous, roll each small round by hand, and then dry it all slowly and naturally in the sun. M’hamsa, actually means “by hand.” “Phenomenal” is, far and away, an understatement when it comes to this stuff. When you cook it, your whole kitchen will smell like wheat. It’s also incredibly easy to prepare, so easy that I was skeptical when we first started stocking it 15 years or so ago. But sure enough, all you do is use 1½ parts water for 1 part couscous. Salt the water lightly, bring it to a boil, then add the couscous. Stir, cover, turn off the heat altogether, and just let the couscous steam in the pot for about 12 minutes. It should come out light and almost fluffy once you move it around a bit with a fork. 

While the couscous is cooking, cut some fresh asparagus spears into 1-inch pieces. Sauté the pieces in hot olive oil. Sprinkle with a small bit of sea salt, stir, and cook til tender. When it’s done, remove them from the pan. Keep the oil hot, crack a couple of eggs per person, and cook lightly (or longer if you like them that way). I recommend the eggs over easy, so the yolk breaks nicely onto the dish. Additionally, coarsely chop some toasted almonds (or pine nuts, hazelnuts, or walnuts).

When the couscous is done cooking, remove the lid. Add the asparagus, soft butter at room temperature, and almonds, along with a good bit of freshly ground black pepper, and stir gently. The butter should meld in with the couscous. (If you need to you can put a very small bit of heat on the pan but be careful not to melt the butter.) It should be soft but not liquid. Put the couscous mixture into warm bowls. Slide the fried eggs on top. Eat and enjoy!