My larder is chock full of wonderful vegetables. I bought them at my beloved Penn Dutch Meat and Seafood Market especially for this wonderful vegetable filled couscous.
Penn Dutch, I had passed their bright yellow building on the side of I-95 when I drove north to a small strip mall for junkie stores and the Sweet Tomatoes Salad Bar restaurant. Their sign proclaimed “Open to the Public.” So one day, I gave it a try. Went to the other side of the highway, wended my way to the service road, and fell in love. Actually, there are/were 2 Penn Dutch stores – this one in Hollywood and the other in Margate. I’d heard of Margate, but had no idea where it was.
What was the charm of Penn Dutch? I shop by loss-leaders, the weekly specials which draw in customers counting on their propensity to impulse buy once in the store. I pretty much resist this human urge. But when you saw the other prices in the Penn Dutch it was hard to resist. I always came home with a good load of fresh fruit, produce, meat, fish, and cheese. I was always a sucker for the day old roast chicken, too, and the Amish butter. Lots of folks loved their homemade sausages.
The fish and meat were the real draws for me. How many times did I tell friends about the whole wild salmon from Alaska for $4-5.99 pound. Good prices for fresh snapper (for my annual gefilte fish), cod, and branzino (they claimed was flown in from Greece). Their lamb was the best. I’m partial to shoulder chops, a cheaper cut. At $3.99 you could even bone and grind it yourself. In honor of my Mom’s Greek heritage I even bought lamb’s heads one year. Cooking them was an experience! Let me know if you’d like to hear! We laughed so hard and remembered my Mom.
If you were signed up for their e-mail ads, you’d get an amazing all-beef hotdog for your birthday. Anthony Bourdain’s favorite “tubular food.”
In the past few months, their 2 stores had some health department problems. They tried to remedy the situation, but for who knows what reason … they decided to close. Penn Dutch was not the first favorite to close recently. The equally long-established, popular Laurenzo’s Market in the north of the city started the trend and closed a couple of months ago. This Italian market was the best of Mediterranean foods. And their café provided a huge, cheap lunch daily. They closed because of age … enough already said the family.
When I learned about Penn Dutch’s closing, I decided to make the pilgrimage to far off Margate, a final trip to my beloved Penn Dutch. A friend and I packed the car with coolers and off we went; it was only about an hour away. Then the wait to get into the store. My friend made a bee-line for the wines; I got some, too, later. My goal was the meats, the fish had sold out the day before. I got a nice selection of lamb chops, some veal, and some organ meats. I also got some pastas (buy one get one free, thank you very much) and produce and more.
Thus, couscous au sept legumes – couscous with seven vegetables. I had bought zucchini, summer squash, multi-colored carrots, and butternut squash (in place of the pumpkin).The small turnips looked perfect. Many years ago, my college friend, Linda, married a Moroccan fellow student. He made us a couscous feast including turnips. I never forgot it. My husband lived for a few years in Morocco and had no memory of turnips in couscous. When we married, he brought Paula Wolfort’s Couscous cookbook to the household. She’s the official queen of Moroccan cookbooks (though I use other ones, too). I used that book for our Penn Dutch couscous. Her couscous aux sept legumes has … turnips.
For the couscous, I put the chicken (I did not use another meat as Wolfort suggests) in a large deep pan along with quartered onions, saffron, turmeric, a stick of cinnamon, and salt and pepper. That cooks for about 10 minutes. Then I added water and simmered for an hour with a handful of cilantro and parsley. I cleaned the vegetables – squashes, carrots, butternut squash, and turnips. Here, I don’t follow Wolfort, I added them all together to the meat, added more water to cover and cooked for a little while, then added canned chickpeas (I have no luck with dried beans, you can use those if you prefer).
The actual couscous, I use instant couscous found in so many American kitchens. I had left-over mushroom broth from soaking shitakes for dinner the night before. I used that with the necessary water to add flavor.
I also bought some beautiful fennel at Penn Dutch. That went into the fennel and celery salad I made for my husband’s birthday. It was a hit. For this, you thinly slice one fennel bulb. Thinly slice 3-6 stalks of crispy celery. Chop some parsley, I used the aromatic fennel fronds. Dress with 3 tbsp. lemon juice, 3 tbsp. olive oil, and salt and pepper. A nice fresh accompaniment for couscous.
I know as we ate this dinner, we’d grieve the loss of Penn Dutch and the lovely people who worked there. And I hope they recover and open the promised Sunrise store in the near future.