The biggest confusion I run into when talking about couscous recipes is what it is, exactly. Is it a grain? Is it pasta? So, the short answer is that it is pasta. Basically, it is little balls of semolina. Or, in the case of Israeli couscous, slightly bigger balls of semolina. But, not to be confused with pastina which is the smallest type of pasta, made with wheat flour, and is typically used in soups. Although I personally like to just add butter and cheese to it for a creamy comfort dish when I don't feel well. But I digress. Couscous is distinctly round semolina balls and, to add further confusion, is not usually found in the pasta section.
I'm not sure why most grocery stores choose to stock the couscous in with the grains and rice instead of the pasta section but that is where you'll most likely find it. And along with it you may see a whole wheat version, the aforementioned Israeli version and plenty of boxed kits with flavor packets included. But there's no need for mystery flavor packets when it's so simple to make couscous and easy to add tons of flavors.
The word couscous is derived from Arabic but the dish is typically considered part of North African cuisine which includes Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Still, it also plays a large role in Middle Eastern dishes.
Making couscous by hand, as has been done since ancient times, is seriously labor intensive. But the versions sold in western stores have been made by machines and also pre-steamed and dried to allow for very quick cooking. In fact, 5 minutes is about all it takes for the tiny grains to steam once your liquid has come to a boil. It can be water but using chicken or vegetable broth is the most common flavor enhancement.
In North African cuisine, the couscous is usually the base of a stew with plenty of vegetables and some lamb or even chicken. But it can also be made into a dessert, common in Egyptian cooking, with cream, sugar, cinnamon and raisins. I like serving it as a side dish with plenty of fresh parsley and some toasted pistachios for a satisfying crunch.
- 1 1/2 Cups couscous
- 2 3/4 Cups water
- 1/4 Teaspoon salt
In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add salt and stir. Add couscous and remove from heat and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.
Couscous should be light and fluffy, not gummy. Be sure to allow the couscous to absorb the water and then fluff with a fork