Couscous, a small type of pasta, is made from crushed and steamed durum wheat. North Africans use couscous the same way many cultures use rice. It is popular in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. In fact, each of this countries claim to be the birthplace of couscous. In these countries, couscous is usually served with meat, especially chicken, mutton, lamb and vegetables. Beyond these similarities, variations exist as to how couscous is served. Moroccans prepare couscous dishes with saffron to create a yellow colored dish that may be topped with fish and a raisin-onion sauce or with meat and vegetables. Algerians incorporate tomatoes into their couscous, while Tunisians add in a harissa sauce.
Couscous (called maftoul in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories), is a food of the Maghreb. This dish, with a name derived from Maghreb Arabic kuskusu, which is from Tamazight seksu, is a food which consists of grains made from semolina which are about 1 mm or 1/16 th inch in diameter (after cooking).
Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the hard wheat Triticum durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive millstone. The name is also used for prepared dishes made from other grains, such as barley, millet, sorghum, rice, or maize.
Production of Couscous
Couscous is made out of two parts semolina, one part flour, water and salt. Semolina is put on a plate and moistened with saltwater. The semolina water mixture is hand molded and flour is added. Then, small grains of couscous are separated. Once grains of the right size are produced, oil is added and the couscous is ready for steaming.
Most couscous sold in grocery stores has been pre-steamed, however, you can also find traditional couscous in stores. For variety, most grocery stores offer flavored versions of couscous.
Israeli couscous, also known as maftoul or pearl couscous, is a larger version of couscous and used in slightly different ways. In Western cooking it is often used as a bed for or dishes, or put into salads. It has been compared with Middle Eastern Taboul or egg barley.
Israeli couscous is actually a version of North African Berkukes introduced by immigrants from various parts of North Africa in the early 50s and Levantine Maghrebiyya (from the Maghreb) common in Israel, Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Couscous was meant to provide a rice substitute for those immigrants from eastern Arab countries and from Persia, where rice was the staple grain. Unlike North African couscous, Israeli couscous, (Maftoul) is not semolina at all, but rather a toasted grains of a mixture of bulgur and flour.
Lebanese couscous is made up of pea-sized "grains".
In order to correctly determine cooking time, you should check to see what kind of couscous you have purchased: instant or traditional.
One cup dry couscous makes two and a half cups cooked couscous.
If you are serving couscous as a side dish, plan on doling out half to three quarters of a cup of couscous to each person.
Normally for a conventional couscous recipe, you would use couscous from a brightly coloured cardboard box or a cellophane packet. This is has been pre-steamed and dried. The package directions usually instruct you to add a little boiling water to make it ready to eat. It is important not to boil and whisk the couscous so that you don't end up with a starchy mush.
 This method can be done quickly and easily by placing the couscous in a bowl and pouring the boiling water or stock over the couscous (and possibly mixing in some butter or olive oil, then covering the bowl tightly. The couscous swells and within a few minutes is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Steaming and fluffing separates the couscous granules.
You can also use a heat-proof colander inside a stock pot, lining it with a cheese cloth if the holes are too big.
You can also cook couscous like rice. First, you heat butter. Next you add rice and stir it in a pan to give it a good coating. Add stock, bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to lowest setting cover and cook until all the stock is absorbed.
Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than dried pasta or rice. Nobody would contemplate making the couscous from scratch out of ground wheat flour. Yet, there are other of couscous kinds available, such as barley couscous and Israeli couscous.
Since couscous, like most pastas, is not very flavorful it is usually made with flavored stocks, herbs and spices and served with vegetables, nuts or meat.
If you want to double or triple the amount of instant couscous you are making, steam it slowly instead of using the hot water method described on the package.
In addition to being served as a side dish, couscous can be eaten as a porridge, in salads, or even in desserts. Add almonds, cinnamon and sugar or fruit to serve couscous as a dessert. Add peas and beans to couscous to make a salad. Combine couscous with buttermilk to make cold soup.
Lebanese couscous should be cooked by soaking it in water for 30 to 45 minutes.
Couscous should be eaten within a few days. Uneaten couscous can be frozen for up to three months.
- Moroccan Couscous
- Apricot Couscous
- Algerian Chicken Couscous
- Arabian Couscous with Pine Nuts and Raisins
- Herbed Israeli Couscous
- Quick Spanish Couscous Salad
- Raspberry-Pear Couscous Cake