Couscous (pronounced "koos-koos"), a staple of North African cooking, is now widely available in packaged form in most supermarkets.
Couscous is yellow granules of semolina made from durum wheat, the ideal pasta wheat, which are precooked and then dried. Actually, the word can mean the pasta itself, as well as North African stews ("tangines") traditionally served over it.
Like pasta or rice, couscous can serve many culinary purposes. It is simple to prepare - usually you just add boiling water and let it sit. You can add exotic spices or sauces or leave it plain.
Couscous can be a salad base, a filling addition to soups, an accompaniment for meats and vegetables, and if sweetened, spiced and mixed with dried fruits, a dessert.
History of Couscous
Durum wheat is indigenous to North Africa, so it serves as the main cereal grain for many of the food preparations in these countries. The Portuguese introduced couscous to other parts of the world more than 400 years ago, although the grain has been around for nearly a 1,000 years. It remains a staple in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Because the process of making couscous can be done in the home, it is more common than pasta in these regions, and the ability to make it is an admired skill.
Couscous Nutritional Values
Couscous is a good low-fat source of complex carbohydrates. One serving (1 ounce, about 3 tablespoons dry) contains:
- Calories: 95.0
- Carbohydrate: 20.0g
- Cholesterol: 0.0mg
- Dietary Fiber: 1.0g
- Fat (Total): 0.1g
- Potassium: 49.5mg
- Protein: 3.2g
- Sodium: 4.3mg
- Selenium: 3.4mcg
- Zinc: .2mg
- Calories from Carbohydrates: 85 percent
- Calories from Fat: 1 percent
- Calories from Protein: 14 percent
Preparation of Couscous
Couscous is a very quick-to-prepare grain side dish. Because it is precooked, it can be ready to eat in less than ten minutes. Once cooked, it can be served hot with a favorite sauce, stew, stir-fry, chilled or stirred into marinated salads with vegetables or even fruit. It also can be used in many of your favorite recipes as a substitute for rice or pasta. When prepared, couscous remains fluffy and separate, and readily takes on the flavors of the other foods cooked or served with it.
The couscous you are most likely to find in your grocery store is of the "instant" variety. This means it has been pre-cooked then dried out again. It comes in small boxes or bags and often is available in a variety of flavors. By following the instructions on the package, the grains will be soft enough to eat, but they will be dense and heavy.
Traditionally cooked couscous is first soaked in cold water, then drained and placed in a fine-meshed steamer above a pot of boiling water or simmering stew. It takes somewhat longer to cook this way (about half an hour), but the difference! Steamed couscous will double, if not triple in size, and will become extremely light and fluffy. Non-instant couscous can be bought in bulk at most health food stores and at some Middle Eastern grocery stores.
Grilled Vegetables with Couscous
Grilled vegetables balance the tart tomato sauce, which mixes perfectly with simple couscous. A heavy grill pan is best for this recipe. If that is unavailable, try a baking tray beneath an oven grill. If you want to make more or less couscous, just use the same quantity of water as couscous. This dish keeps well, as the flavor of the vegetables seems to grow stronger. Serve this dish lightly warmed for lunch or nice and hot for dinner, or use it as a cold dish in a selection of salads. Makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 small eggplant
1 large sweet onion
3/4 cup frozen broad beans
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup couscous
1 cup vegetable stock
Remove the seeds from the pepper, and chop into strips about 1 to 2 inches long. Cut the eggplant crossways into rounds about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick, and cut each one into 6 to 8 even chunks. Peel the onion, and chop into 8 portions. Trim the zucchini, and cut into thick slices.
Heat grill pan over a high heat with a generous splash of olive oil. When it is very hot, add all the vegetables to the pan. Press down occasionally to get grill lines across them. Turn occasionally to prevent burning. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are evenly browned and cooked through. Stir broad beans into the vegetables. Add chopped tomatoes, and vinegar. Simmer for a few minutes while the couscous is prepared.
Place couscous into a medium bowl. Add boiling vegetable stock, and stir with a fork. Keep lifting the couscous occasionally to prevent it sticking. It only takes 2 to 3 minutes to become soft. Place couscous in a large bowl or serving platter, and serve the vegetables on top.
Here are two free recipe cards you can save for quick and easy couscous - either as a side dish or even for breakfast! Simply right-click and save the images to print any time.
Nutrition per serving: Calories: 285; Protein: 10g; Total Fat: 4g; Sodium 375mg; Carbohydrates: 52g; Fiber: 9g
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