Couscous versatile and misunderstood

Published April 23, 1998|Updated Sept. 13, 2005

Couscous is one of my favorite foods. It's also quite misunderstood, even among people in the food profession.

Couscous is not a grain, as most people think. It actually is made from semolina or durum wheat flour, which has been rolled into long strands then cracked into tiny "grains," which are then steamed and dried. I always say it's a tiny grain of pasta.

Whole-wheat couscous also is available. It is darker than the typical yellow-colored couscous.

Although you can cook couscous in water as you do pasta, you can also add flavor by cooking it in broth or stock. To reconstitute or quick-cook couscous, bring 1{ cups liquid (water, stock, broth) to a boil and add 1 cup couscous. I like to add a little extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper to the water or stock before boiling. Return to a simmer, turn off the heat, cover the pan and allow the couscous to sit 10 minutes. Finally, fluff the couscous with a fork, and it's ready to serve.

The traditional Moroccan way to prepare couscous is to steam it over a simmering stew or soup. This takes hours and much care. I suggest that, the next time you go to Morocco, you have it there.

Besides being served as a side dish, couscous can also be eaten as a breakfast cereal by cooking it with milk _ dairy, soy, rice or oat milk _ and fresh or dried fruits. Just simmer all the ingredient together for about 10 minutes or until the couscous becomes soft and gelatinous.

Couscous is available in supermarkets and natural food stores for $1.59 to $1.99 a pound in bulk or in 1-pound boxes.

Steve Petusevsky is a contributing editor to Cooking Light magazine and national director of creative food development for Whole Foods.