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Couscous - The Appeal Of Tiny Moroccan Pasta

Updated on August 16, 2010

It would be easy to believe that couscous is one of those exotic grains, such as spelt or teff. It's small and has a funny name, and it's served primarily with foreign-sounding food. But it's not a weird grain - it's made from our old friend wheat.

If couscous is unfamiliar to you and you're a little apprehensive about it, just remember - it's only pasta, itty-bitty pasta. It's made from semolina dough that's either been hand-rolled by women in Morocco or mass-produced by giant machines in the United States.

Couscous originated in North Africa, and some of its traditional accompaniments are chickpeas, fava beans, potatoes, eggplant, rabbit, fish, chicken, and lamb. Couscous is also served sweet, with nuts and dried fruit. A versatile dish, couscous.

Unlike pasta, the couscous available in this country is precooked. Nevertheless, there's a long, complicated way to make couscous that involves several steps, a special pot (called a couscoussiere), and a couple of hours. Fortunately, there are also a couple of short, easy ways.

Easy, Perfect Couscous:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put one cup of couscous in an ovenproof dish with a lid. Add one cup of warm water and stir. Let it sit for 20 minutes, and then break up any lumps with your fingers or a fork. Cover tightly, and bake for 20 minutes.

Even Easier (but Less Perfect) Couscous:

Add one cup of boiling water to one cup of couscous. Let stand 8 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Once it's cooked, it can accompany curries, stews, roast meats and vegetables, or kebabs. Couscous has a slightly nutty taste and a grainy texture, and can substitute not only for pasta but for rice, barley, or any other grain. Here are a few other simple suggestions:

  • Use couscous in a vinaigrette-dressed chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, olives, and parsley or mint. You can also add feta cheese, canned tuna, or chopped anchovies.
  • Serve it with a sauce of harissa (a three alarm fiery hot Middle Eastern condiment available at specialty stores) diluted with stock.
  • Make a side dish of couscous, chickpeas, pine nuts, raisins, and a little lemon juice.
  • Add uncooked couscous to soup, stew, or any other liquid-based dish 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Moroccan Vegetable Couscous

Stir a bit of freshly chopped mint into cool yogurt for a luscious topping on a yummy salad made from heirloom tomatoes and thinly sliced cucumber, accompanied by warm pita triangles. If you want the perfect matching dessert to serve afterwards, try a tasty pistachio ice cream served on orange segments sprinkled with a bit of sugar.

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
3 cups of mixed  vegetables (such as carrots, zucchini, red onion, and cauliflower)
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
1 cup of Chablis or similar white wine
1/2 cup of sultana raisins
1 cup of prepared vegetable broth
3/4 cup of couscous and lentil mixture or any other quality couscous blend

1. First you should drop the almonds into a heavy skillet, and stir over a medium heat until the almonds are beginning to get golden brown which should take about three minutes.

2. Start preparing the couscous according to the directions on the package.

3. Now transfer the almonds to a bowl and add the olive oil to the same skillet. You may now turn up the heat to a medium high setting.

4. Add the veggies and ground spices, and then saute until the vegetables begin to barely soften and the red onion becomes slightly translucent which should take about four minutes. Add the Chablis wine and the sultanas. Boil the mixture until the wine is reduced by about half which should take about three minutes. Add the broth and then partially cover the skillet to simmer until the vegetables are fully tender but not mushy, which will take about six minutes. Then you may season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Mound the prepared couscous onto a large platter and then ladle the vegetables and juices over the grain. Sprinkle with the reserved almonds and enjoy!


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    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto

      Try it with something your kids really like, as it absorbs the flavors of almost anything. If your kids like chicken (or anything else), mix it up with that and see what happens!

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 7 years ago from Cape Town

      I love couscous, but for some reason my kids don't!