Food – Couscous

“Our Creator has furnished us, in vegetables, grain, and fruits, all the elements of nutrition necessary to health and strength.” The Signs of the Times, January 6, 1876.

Couscous is among the healthiest grain-based products.

A Berber dish of semolina traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it, the name is derived from Berber seksu, meaning well rolled, well formed, rounded. Today, it is still a staple in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Western Libya. One of the first written references of couscous is from an anonymous thirteenth century Moroccan/Andalusian cookbook. To this day, couscous is known as the Moroccan national dish.

Originally made from millet, historians have different opinions as to when wheat began to replace the use of millet. The conversion seems to have occurred sometime in the twentieth century. The best and most famous couscous is made from hard wheat.

The key to preparing an authentic couscous is patience and care. There are two basic steps in preparing couscous before the cooking process: forming the couscous and humidifying and drying the couscous. The first of these steps, forming the couscous—that is, preparing couscous from “scratch”—is rarely done anymore. The original “from scratch” process involves rubbing and rolling together large grains of hard wheat semolina with finer grains of semolina sprayed with salted water to raise the humidity of the semolina so the two sizes affix to each other to form couscous, the large grain serving as a kind of nucleus for the smaller grains. Modern couscous factories do all of this by machine, including the needed drying process. When one buys couscous, in a box or in bulk, this first step has been done.

The second basic step is the only step with which you need to be concerned. The couscous is best if it is steamed and not submerged in liquid. However, the couscous that is sold in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried, and the package directions usually instruct to add 1.5 measures of boiling water or stock and butter to each measure of couscous and to cover tightly for 5 minutes. The couscous swells and within a few minutes it is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Properly cooked couscous is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. It should taste tender, not al dente and not mushy; the grains should be separate and taste moist, not wet and not dry.

Couscous may be prepared in a variety of ways with vegetables, fruit and spices. The Confetti Couscous salad is perfect for a summer dinner, served over a bed of radicchio or watercress. Garnish the salad with sliced avocados and cherry tomatoes or dice a half cup of each and toss right in.