Are you asking yourself what is couscous? You aren’t alone so we are diving deep into this question today. Not only will you learn what it is but you will also learn what couscous taste like and other useful facts.
Couscous is a starchy carbohydrate food that you can serve alone, used in side dishes, or with main entrees.
Where is couscous from, you ask?
It originated in the 13th century from the North African regions, where it is considered a staple food.
You can trace its roots back to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
It is also commonly found in the Middle Eastern countries and the Mediterranean.
It may just be one of the most underrated ingredients to keep on hand in the kitchen.
Let’s explore together what it is, the different types of couscous, how it is stored, cooked, and served.
The original cooking process involves simmering, steaming, and fluffing once, twice, or even three times.
While this produces the most amazing fluffy couscous, the time involved is unrealistic.
Honestly, most of us do not have the time for all those steps when throwing dinner together at the end of the day, which is why we are so thankful we have the instant couscous at our fingertips!
What is couscous
Plain couscous is made from semolina flour, which is coarsely ground durum wheat mixed with water.
You can form them into balls by rolling the whole-wheat couscous and water between your hands until it forms tiny beads or small granules.
Contrary to popular belief, this popular African dish is considered a type of pasta.
There are also whole wheat couscous or whole-grain couscous versions available, obviously made from, well, whole grains like durum wheat semolina.
Sometimes you can make it with barley or millet.
What does couscous taste like
Moroccan couscous tastes nutty with just a hint of sweetness and an unbelievably unexpected fluffiness.
The Israeli couscous is a larger size with a soft, chewy texture.
Nowadays, commercially made couscous have beads that are uniform in size and shape that you can usually find in grocery stores.
The texture of regular couscous can range from light and fluffy to soft and chewy depending on its size and amount of couscous steam.
On its own, it has a mild flavor or neutral taste that compliments any meal easily.
Some might even say it is bland, but that allows it to take on the taste of the seasonings it has been prepared with, ranging from mild and straightforward to spicy and wild!
Is couscous a grain or a pasta
Couscous is often mistaken for a bowl of rice, but it is a form of pasta!
Since it is man-made by rolling the semolina with water, most chefs believe it fits into the tiny pasta category.
Rice, like white rice and brown rice, are directly grown from the ground and harvested as a seed.
However, there is room for debate, and the issue is far from closed.
Types of couscous
There are three different varieties of couscous, with each type originating from various places besides the traditional couscous from African countries.
They also come in different sizes and the most common couscous is in small size, which hails from Morocco called Moroccan smaller couscous.
The middle size, Israeli couscous, is interchangeably referred to as pearl couscous.
The largest is from Lebanon, Mograbiah (or Lebanese couscous), and created from bulgur wheat.
Is there another type of couscous?
Yes, the Palestinian Maftoul and the Sardinian Fregola you may come across in various places.
How to store couscous
Uncooked couscous needs only to be kept in an air-tight container of some kind in a cool, dry location.
If you expose it to heat or humidity, it will soak it up and go bad.
If it has gone bad, you will smell a rancid foul smell which may be apparent when you open the container or may not show up until after you cook it.
After cooking couscous, allow it to thoroughly cool and store it in the refrigerator for four to five days.
Again, be sure it is in a completely sealed container.
How to cook couscous
Although it is pasta, couscous is steamed, not boiled.
The traditional preparation for cooking couscous is in a couscoussier, a pot that allows the couscous to steam above a soup or stew.
Essentially, the steam from the soup gently cooks the couscous at the same time.
Fluffing is necessary throughout the process so that each piece separate one another.
The kind of couscous found in the US is the quick-cooking variety.
This one means the couscous has already been steamed and dried, so we simply add the hot water back in before eating.
You can also use chicken broth or vegetable broth along with olive oil or butter.
It is not necessary to rinse it before cooking because it is pasta.
When cooking with couscous, keep in mind, it doubles in size.
You heard right, doubles!
Pro tip: you can enhance the texture of the couscous if you take a minute or two and fluff the couscous before serving.
The main purpose is not to allow the pearls of couscous to clump together.
How to serve couscous
Couscous is downright delicious all on its own with olive oil or butter and a touch of salt.
Many many recipes use couscous in similar ways as rice.
It can even be a substitute for breadcrumbs.
It plays well with other food groups like vegetables and proteins!
It is highly versatile as it absorbs seasoned liquids and spices well.
It is a super popular add-in or base of many seasonal salads, highlighting the season’s fresh vegetables.
It can also be added to soups, served alongside a protein and veggie, or mixed into a one-pot recipe with all the ingredients combined.
The bottom line
Whether you have experimented quite often with couscous or this is your first trip around the sun trying it, I genuinely hope you feel prepared having read through this list of questions and answers.
May I add you can enjoy that couscous simply as it is with herbs, but you can take it up just a notch by adding a texture and bold flavor, with something like lemon, pine nuts, slivered almonds, dried fruit, seeds, or olives.
Whether you use Moroccan or Israeli couscous, I hope you are pleasantly surprised by the taste and continue exploring its uses in your recipe rotation.
- 1 c couscous
- 1 ¼ c water
- 1 T butter
- In a small saucepan, bring the butter and water to a boil
- Remove the saucepan from the heat
- Stir in the couscous
- Cover and let it stand for 10 minutes.
- Fluff with a fork.