What is couscous?
Today’s couscous consists of small granules or pellets made from semolina flour (from the heart of durum wheat). It resembles farina, polenta, or grits but slightly larger.
However, the term couscous originally referred to the method of processing the flour. Couscous was often made from millet, barley, and other grains.
Couscous is as old as pasta. In fact, many historians argue that couscous pre-dates pasta, with references to couscous dating back as far as the 10th century. Scholars debate whether couscous originated in West Africa or North Africa (Berber), but today, couscous is considered a Moroccan specialty.
Couscous is traditionally steamed and fluffed to separate the granules. Boiling and stirring can reduce quick-cooking couscous to a sticky, starchy mush. Like pasta, couscous does not have much of a flavor itself. Thus couscous dishes are made with flavored stocks, herbs, and spices, with vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and/or meat added or used as a topping.
Most packaged couscous is considered the instant variety and will cook very quickly on the stove by absorbing a boiling liquid. However, authentic couscous (roughly-ground hard durum wheat) will require significantly more time and a good steaming vessel called a couscoussiere.
• Be sure to identify which type of couscous you have purchased (instant or traditional) to properly plan cooking time.
• Couscous may also be cooked like rice. Heat butter, add couscous and stir to coat, add stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and cook (no peeking!) until liquid is absorbed. Fluff to separate.
• When using the long traditional method of steaming couscous, covering the pot is not recommended as the condensation can drip onto the grains and make the couscous mushy.
• As well as a carbohydrate-laden side dish, couscous may also be eaten as a porridge, in salads, or in desserts.
• To double or triple the volume of instant couscous, avoid the hot water method given on the box and take the time to slowly steam it.
• Cooked couscous should be eaten within a couple of days. It may be frozen up to three months.
What is Couscous Photo ©2021 Peggy Filippone