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Couscous

 Like other grains and oats, couscous has a high carb count but a lower "net carb" or "digestible carb" content. It also contains several vitamins and minerals and is a good source of dietary fiber, which has a number of health benefits. For example, fiber helps protect against digestive disorders and disease. Furthermore, higher fiber diets appear to be associated with fewer digestive complaints, better blood-sugar control, lower blood-cholesterol levels and reduced rates of colon cancer, heart and kidney disease.  In addition, couscous is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium and a good source of Selenium and Manganese.

STORAGE Keep in airtight containers in cool, dry place, out of direct light.

FUN FOOD FACTS  This pre-cooked wheat product, which comes in whole grain or milled, is light, flavorful and can be easily prepared. A lengthy, traditional process of soaking, steaming and buttering the couscous swells the grains making them lighter.

Couscous is a primary staple food throughout much of Northern Africa and Middle East, especially in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Moroccan couscous is mildest, lightest and fluffiest. It is also popular in Brazil, France, and in western Sicily's Trapani province, it is served with seafood. It is particularly popular among Jews of North African descent, such as the Berber Jews.

Traditional couscous requires considerable labor and preparation time.  Couscous is made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat) into small circular granules and then coating them with finely ground wheat flour or semolina (dry). Other varieties can be larger and made of hard wheat, barley or millet instead of semolina. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny grains of couscous. The finished grains are about 1 mm in diameter before steaming in a “couscoussiere”.

In the traditional method of preparing couscous, groups of women would come together and make large batches. These would then be dried in the sun and used for several months. In Morocco, couscous making and eating takes place every Friday, or holy day, in every home. Women spend the morning preparing the couscous to be served after prayer, in combination with meat and vegetable sauce. To eat this couscous or “ksksu” (Moroccan Arabic) the family and guests gather around the same large serving dish, eating together with only their right hands. One technique to facilitate eating with one hand is to toss around some of the couscous with some of the sauce to form a ping pong sized ball, which can then be more easily tossed into the mouth with the thumb. (Sometimes there may be separate dishes for males and females)

PREPARATION

Quick-Cook Couscous  In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and the product is sold around the world. What we are familiar with in the West is a more processed quick-cook couscous valued for its short preparation time. It has been pre-steamed and dried. Using quick cooking couscous means you just need to rehydrate it. The couscous swells and within a few minutes is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. (You may, however, prepare quick-cook couscous by the steaming process) Look for couscous made of hard duram wheat, as that made of regular flour can easily turn to mush.


Traditional Couscous
 
Authentically cooked couscous should be light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty; steam couscous two to three times to separate granules and achieve this consistency. Traditionally, North Africans use a steamer called a “kiskas” in Arabic or “couscoussière” in French. The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked in a stew. On top of the base a steamer sits where the couscous is cooked, absorbing the flavors from the stew. The lid to the steamer has holes around its edge so that steam can escape. It is also possible to use a pot with a steamer insert. If the holes are too big the steamer can be lined with damp cheesecloth.
 

Basic Recipes  Couscous can accommodate an almost endless variety of sauces or stews, or can be served with spicy vegetables. Couscous is traditionally served under a meat or vegetable stew. It can also be served flavored or plain, warm as porridge, cold in salads, as a dessert or a side dish. 

Cooked couscous should be eaten within a few days.  Or it may be frozen up to three months.

1 cup dry couscous = 2-1/2 cups cooked.

As a side dish, plan on 1/2 to 3/4 cup cooked couscous per person
 

Basic Quick-Cook Recipe 1:  Fastest For quick-cook couscous, pour 1 cup of the couscous into 1 cup of boiling water. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. Add flavoring of choice. Another variation would be to put 1 cup couscous into 2 cups water, simmer and stir a bit for1 minute, let stand 3 minutes. They both work fine.

Basic Quick-Cook Recipe 2:  Like Rice Couscous may also be cooked like rice. Heat butter, add couscous and stir to coat, water or stock (double the amount of couscous), bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed in about 5 minutes (no peeking!). Fluff to separate.

Basic Quick-Cook Recipe 3:  (4 servings) Mince 1 small onion. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in saucepan. Add the onions and 3 tablespoons currants and cook for 2 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add 1 cup couscous and cook for 1 minute until lightly toasted. Stir in 1.5 cups water or stock and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Add (optional) butter when fluffing couscous with a fork.

Basic (Traditional) Recipe 4: To double or triple the volume of instant couscous, avoid the hot water method given and take the time to slowly steam it.  If you lack a steamer, a heat-proof colander inside a stockpot will work fine. Line the colander with cheesecloth if the holes are too big. 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.

Basic (Traditional) Recipe 5: Three Steams for softer, traditional couscous. (10 servings) This recipe uses milk, which is supposed to bring out the sweet flavor of the couscous. Put 2.5 cups couscous in a strainer and rinse well. Spread couscous in a roasting pan or wide tub to let dry for 10 mins. Separate any lumps with fingers. In bottom of steamer or stock pot, bring plenty of salted water to a boil. Set steamer top or colander over boiling water. To ensure a tight fit, wrap base with a cheesecloth. Add ¼ of couscous and steam uncovered for 20 min, until hot/ moist. Add remaining couscous and steam uncovered for 20 mins. Put all couscous in the roasting pan, remove steamer from heat, but keep the water. Spread out couscous with fork. Break any lumps while gradually sprinkling it with 1 cup of milk, salt, pepper. While stirring and sifting grains with fingers, breaking any lumps add 1 more cup of milk. Let stand, tossing occasionally to break lumps, until no longer sticky (1-2 hours). Return couscous to steamer, and steam for 20 mins. Dump back into the roasting pan and gradually rake in 2 cups of cold water. Smooth evenly and let dry again. For third steaming, wet your hands to sift again breaking any lumps. Return to steamer for 20 mins. At this stage, however, you may steam over a stew or broth. ”Paula Wolfert’s World of Food”.
 

 

Roasted Vegetable Couscous

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 yam (8 oz.) peeled and diced

1 red onion

1 zucchini (8 oz.) halved and sliced

2 TBSP olive oil

½ TSP kosher salt

¼ TSP coarsely ground black pepper

2 ½ low-sodium chicken broth

12 oz. Couscous

½ c. scallions, chopped

1 c. pitted olives, halved

¾ c. garbanzo beans

½ c. toasted cashews, coarsely chopped

¼ c. parsely, chopped

¼ orange juice

¼ TSP ground cinnamon

Cayenne pepper to taste

 

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss yams, onions and zucchini with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread onto a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes until lightly browned and tender.  While vegetables are cooking, heat broth to a boil in medium saucepan.  Stir in couscous and scallions, cover and cook for 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and set aside for 5 minutes, then uncover and fluff with a fork.  Mix in olives, garbanzo beans, cashews, parsely, orange juice, and cinnamon.  Season with a dash of cayenne pepper to taste.  Top couscous with roasted vegetables and toss together just before serving.  Serve hot or cold,  6 as an entrée, 8 as a side dish.

Dessert Couscous Recipe

5 cups couscouS

2 Tbsp peanut oil ¼ tsp salt

 ¼ tsp cinnamon

 ¾ cup olive oil

Cover raw couscous with cold water and drain immediately. Stir with a fork and let rest for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the peanut oil mix with 6 tb water along with the salt and cinnamon. Mix well using your hands until the liquid has been uniformly absorbed. Place couscous in the top of a coucousier (or in a colander inside a stock pot) and place over boiling water. Steam for 30 minutes and remove from the heat. Return couscous to a bowl and mix in half the olive oil using your hands. Allow to cool and then sprinkle with 3/4 c water. Mix well and set aside until it has absorbed all the water. Return to the couscousier and steam for another 15 minutes. Return to the bowl, add half the remaining oil and mix with your fingers. Steam again for another 30 minutes. Return to the bowl for one last time and mix in the rest of the oil. Arrange couscous in a cone shape on a large serving platter. Decorate attractively with the garnishes (cinnamon, powdered sugar, prunes) & serve while hot.

Couscous Marrakech: (Serves 8)

This simple couscous dish combines dried fruits and nuts with an earthy blend of Moroccan spices. A delicious accompaniment to seasoned meats, fish, vegetables or a Moroccan tagine. Serve freshly steamed or warmed up the next day.

2 cups water
5 dried black mission figs, diced
5 dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 cup yellow pepper, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/3 cup pistachio nuts, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Dressing
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon honey
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Place 2 cups of water in pot along with figs, apricots and raisins and heat to a boil. While water is coming to a boil, place couscous in a bowl with turmeric, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix couscous until it is well coated with olive oil. After water comes to a boil, remove dried fruits and set aside. Add water to the couscous and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to steam for 15 minutes. While couscous is steaming, prepare dressing by combining lemon juice, orange juice, olive oil, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, honey, salt and pepper. Whisk until well combined. 

When couscous is done, flake with a fork until all grains are fluffed and separated. Add dried fruits, red and yellow peppers, onion, nuts and cilantro. Pour in dressing. Gently mix together with a large serving spoon until all ingredients and dressing are well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning if need be.
 

SOURCES

Steve Raichlen, “Making Couscous” article Washington Post,

Maureen Sarver (Peace Corps Volunteer Morocco), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couscous