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Couscous From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Couscous From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

A favorite around the world, especially in France, couscous is generally served with spices, vegetables and sometimes meat,

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It’s a traditional dish from Ivory Coast, very popular throughout West Africa. It is made out of grated cassava. Its look and taste are so similar to wheat couscous that many people wouldn’t get the difference. However, its color is lighter, its texture stickier, its taste slightly more acid and its flavor unique.

Couscous is a Berber dish, and so is its etymology: it comes from the Berber words seksu or kesksu, meaning ‘well rolled; well formed; rounded’. It is now a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya.

Traditional couscous is prepared with semolina. However, the name is nowadays used to refer also to similar preparations made out of different cereals, such as barley, millet, sorghum, rice or corn.

Couscous is worldwide-appreciated savory dish, however in some places, including Egypt, it is eaten more often as a dessert. It is prepared with butter, sugar, cinnamon, raisins and nuts, and topped with cream. In Libya it is prepared with dates, sesame and pure honey, and locally referred to as “Maghrood”.

Eastern France
Couscous is the third favorite dish in France, and the top favorite one in Eastern France. It is the result of a widespread survey conducted by French magazine Vie Pratique Gourmande in 2011.

It is a preparation from Sardinia, Italy, very similar to Israeli couscous. However, its pellets are larger than the couscous ones, and toasted. A real couscous called cascà is typical of southern Sardinian island of Carloforte, where it arrived thanks to Ligurian immigrants coming from the Genoese colony of Tabarka in Tunisia.

Couscous is made of tiny granules, of various sizes. The traditional method of preparing them is very labor-intensive. The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate, and then sieved. Any pellets which are too small to be finished granules of couscous and fall through the sieve will be again rolled and sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny granules of couscous, which are then dried in the sun.

Couscous is generally served with spices and spicy sauces. One of its favorite sauces is harissa, made out of chili pepper, garlic and olive oil, very popular in Tunisia and France.

In modern times, especially when it comes to the one sold in Western grocery stores, couscous has been pre-steamed and dried, becoming a quick food, ready in 5 minutes by adding boiling water to it.

Jean Jacques Bouchard
He was a traveler in the XVII Century. He provided the first written testimony of couscous’ appearance on European’s tables, stating that he ate it in Provence in 1630.

It is the Arab name for the two-chambered pot to cook couscous (taseksut in Berber; couscoussier in French). The grains are steamed in the upper part, over a boiling sauce in the bottom one. Once the couscous grains are fluffy and the sauce is cooked, the two are mixed together and served, often with meat, fish or vegetables on top.

La Graine et le Mulet
Called Couscous in English, it is a 2007 French movie written and directed by Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche, winner of the Silver Lion in Venice.

Lamb is one of the favorite meats to serve couscous with, along with mutton and chicken (or beef). However, vegetarian recipes are also very popular, especially in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, made of chickpeas and vegetable stews. Another alternative is fish couscous: very typical are the sweet and sour Morocco one; the Sicilian preparation with grouper and the calamari one from Lybia.

It’s how couscous is called in eastern Algeria, the word na’ma meaning ‘blessing’. In some other parts of the country, as well as in different North African nations, its name is ta am, meaning ‘food, nourishment’.

Although couscous comes from Berber nomadic traditions and is incredibly widespread throughout Maghreb, recent evidence suggests that this kind of preparation originated in Sub-Saharan Western Africa, and pearl millet was the original cereal used for it. As a matter of a fact, it seems that African women would cook it for Berber populations.

It is the so-called ‘Israeli couscous’, a larger, baked wheat product similar to couscous.

They look alike, they sound alike, are often mistaken for each other, but quinoa and couscous are very different indeed. Quinoa is actually a small seed that is cooked and eaten in a similar manner to most grains.

Couscous is typically eaten as dessert in North-African Arab countries during Ramadan. Masfouf is a traditional Tunisian version, with butter and green peas, served in particular during that month of the year.

Triticum Durum semolina is the basis of couscous. Semolina is worked with water to form the granules.

It is a kind of Persian salad, one of the best known Middle-East dishes. The original recipe is made with bulgur, a form of whole wheat that has been cleaned, cooked, dried, and ground. It is mixed with parsley, tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice and eventually more ingredients. A current popular variation is using couscous instead of bulgur.

Unofficial national dish
It is definitely it for Berber people and Tunisians: couscous is to them what pasta is to Italy, not just food to put on the table, but a centerpiece of family life. Preparing and eating couscous is a ritual and a tradition that binds the generations together.

In Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.) cooked in a spicy or mild broth or stew

It is the most commonly used cereal to make couscous. Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the durum. XIII Century AD. It is when the anonymous cookbook Kitāb al-tabǐkh fǐ al-Maghrib wa'l-Andalus, ‘The cookbook of the Maghreb and Andalusia’ was written, with one of the first references to couscous, that was 'known all over the world'.

It’s the edible tuber with which is made Wassa wassa, a variety of couscous from Togo.

Zero cholesterol
Couscous is a healthy food: it contains no cholesterol; it has 3.6 g of protein for every 100 calories and, furthermore, it contains a 1% fat-to-calorie ratio.

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