Chilli Prawns (Gambas Pil Pil) on Couscous Nests

A Fresh take on Three Weeks of Travel on One Plate

gambas pil pil on coucous nests

Telling you that we travelled more than 30 hours to get home to Cape Town from Casablanca may bore you. In fact you may see it as some inverse brag. Thing is, you always see the instagrams and streams of Facebook posts from travellers’ every breakfast and ocean view in exquisite locales sometimes barely heard of (Micronesia?!) but you rarely hear about the effort it takes to get to a place. No direct or even double-stop connections available. Delays. Overbooked flights. Dismantling your carry-on luggage with each and every security check. The oh-so-friendly customs officials -what a joy! Water confiscated again and 3 meters down the line, exhausted and thirsty, you’ve got to re-purchase. The humiliating pull of the curtain swiftly dividing business class from economy-plus from economy etc (airlines seem to want the divide to grow bigger in social and income structure, and let’s give it to them – they have the market demanding it).

License for image Bought from Shutterstock

Anyhow, this post isn’t about the challenges of travel – we got home around 5 pm yesterday and I spent a few hours bustling between packing and cooking (having showered in Johannesburg just before the flight to Cape Town, I thought I’d add) and the inconveniences of the past 30 hours evaporated. So, a post on the realities of travel with a mobile office in tow and one food-prop hunter/social media addict in the mix, for another time.

(The world does not revolve around a few, inconvenienced travellers. Is pretty pathetic to complain, but there are some interesting observations I’ve made over the years)

I joyfully unpacked some of the spices from Spain and Morocco, carefully nestled between bright Berber cloths and well worn summer dresses. Having dined on one too many rich tagines and bowls of olive-oil dripping tapas, I wanted to capture the flavours of the three weeks of travel in a fresh dish, one fitting with the gorgeous summer greeting Cape Town high-five’d to us.  Also, the jean zipper! Bloody traitor.

I used a Gambas Pil Pil spice (prawns in a chilli and garlic butter – a very popular tapa throughout Spain) from Granada and pan fried shelled prawns in the littlest splash of olive oil. You can use paprika and an extra garlic clove, sliced.

I made whole-wheat couscous ‘nests’ in small cupcake holder pans, flavoured with ras-el-hanout from Meknes in Morocco (I bought this spice from each town/city we visited). Use normal couscous if you prefer.

I added parsley (commonly used in Morocco) and lemon zest to a chunky cottage cheese. The cheeses in Morocco are usually white and mild, even the goat’s cheese.

Green pepper and celery diced, along with baby rosa tomatoes added a fresh summer crunch and a splosh of colour.

We enjoyed these two-bite morsels and the flavours of our most recent trip came through reassuringly, a thrill with each bite.


Makes 16-18 nests

For the Couscous Nests

1 cup couscous *

1 cup boiling water

1.5 t ras-el-hanout (or use mix of ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon and white pepper – not a true reflection as it contains almost 45 different spices)

* depending on the couscous you use, you may need to use egg yolks to bind the mixture. In this case add 2- 3 egg yolks*

For the topping

1/3 green pepper, finely diced

4 celery fingers, finley diced

1/3 cup baby rosa tomatoes, sliced in quarters

1 tub chunky low fat cottage cheese

2 T finely chopped parsley

zest, 1 lemon, finely chopped

For the Gambas Pil Pil

16 -18 queen (small) prawns shelled and deveined, tail on

1 t gambas pil pil spice or paprika (adjust to taste)

2 cloves garlic, smashed

salt, to taste

1 T olive oil



1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Grease a cupcake holder pan.

2. Add couscous and boiling water to a medium sized bowl. Cover with cling-film for 10 minutes.

3. Add ras-el-hanout and salt and fluff with a fork to mix.

4. Add olive oil and mix through, also with a fork.

5. Form into small balls with your hands, flatten into the mould of the holders and depress the centres, up to the sides to form a hollow or ‘nests’. *Note if your couscous grains refuse to bind, add 2-3 egg yolks and mix well, squishing with your hands before you form into balls*

6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and allow to cool before removing with a cake lifter, gently.

7. Dice peppers and celery and cut up the tomatoes.

8. Mix parsley and lemon zest into cottage cheese. Set aside.

9.  Mix the pil pil spice and garlic into the prawns.

10. On meduim heat in a non-stick pan, add olive oil and the prawns. Fry till cooked (opaque colour- will not take too long). Add salt, to taste.

11. Assemble the nests on a plate. Add the herbed cottage cheese, pepper, celery and tomatoes. Top with a warm spicy prawn.

I served these as a starter.


Print pagePDF page
By |2017-05-08T12:23:07+00:00October 10th, 2012|Africa, Food, Food & Travel, Recipe Index, Recipes, Seafood, Starters, Travel in Africa|7 Comments


  1. Hasmita October 11, 2012 at 6:00 am - Reply

    This looks so yummy, and such a great summer dish!

    • Ishay October 12, 2012 at 10:41 pm - Reply

      Thank you Hasmita. Going to make with marinated chicken strips too.

  2. Janice Tripepi October 12, 2012 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Awesome recipe Ishay! Love the couscous base – nice and crunchy! yummmm

    • Ishay October 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm - Reply

      Hi Jan. I should have specified, the baskets remain soft, but firmed up a little with the baking. Thank you, have a gorgeous weekend.

  3. Jeanne @ CookSister! October 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    Oh I am SO stealing this idea ;o) And yeah – ain’t travel glamorous?? I tell myself this each time when I am standing in a room full of strangers, barefoot and holding my belt in one hand & my jeans up with the other as some grumpy person swabs my cosmetic bag for explosives…

    • Ishay October 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm - Reply

      You may with pleasure. Oh, and I forgot to mention the sheepishly walking in socks (hoping there are no holes in ’em), handing over shoes and wishing you wore the real, leather fancy heels not the the heaviest sneaker types you strategically put on to save a few grams in the suitcase. Let’s have a long drink and swap stories 🙂

  4. […] 2011 and our waiters (my brother, Corina and Abe Deane) served them appetisers. Featured: my Gambas Pil Pil on Couscous Nests, Cucumber Cups filled with Chevrè, Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate Arils & Za’atar. Slow […]

Leave A Comment