Couscous can add some originality to dinner routine
Tired of that same old mashed-potato routine? Had one too many cups of plain white rice? Do you feel that one more bowl of buttered pasta will send you screaming from the table?Why not try something new and make couscous? Couscous is a staple of Moroccan, North African and Algerian cuisine. Thought to date back to the 13th century, couscous has slowly made its way onto U.S. tables. I used it as a side years ago in my own restaurant.
Couscous is nothing more than wheat flour that has been worked into tiny irregularly shaped balls of dough. At first glance they resemble large grains of sand that are the color of any regular pasta or noodle. Traditionally, it is made by drizzling salted water over a bowl of flour while the hands rake or work the flour back and forth. Once the water is absorbed, the couscous is pressed through a sieve to make sure the sizes are the same and then it is dried. Some say that couscous got its name from the sound the flour makes as it is getting moved around.
What makes this little pasta or noodle attractive is its versatility and ease of use. In Morocco you might see a two-part cooking pot called a couscousiere, pronounced koos-koos-yair. In the bottom of the pot you might find simmering water, stock or a flavorful stew. The couscous is drizzled with water and oil, then placed in the top portion of the cooker and allowed to cook, absorbing all the wonderful flavors from the steam being produced below.
Making couscous at home is even easier. While you can use a steamer basket or other implement, you can also use a mesh strainer and a seasoned broth for simplicity. Have a pot of boiling stock on the stove, fill a fine mesh strainer with couscous and dip it into the boiling stock. Let the couscous sit in the stock for about four to five minutes, remove it and flake it with a fork, then serve.
Couscous is a very light ingredient that will not get heavy and starchy like rice and potatoes can. As mentioned, couscous is very versatile due mainly to its size and neutral flavor and can be used for any part of the meal.
While it makes a simple and quick side dish, it can also be used as a base for a great cold salad, which in turn can be a platform for a nice grilled breast of chicken or poached salmon fillet. It can even be easily used for a fun desert.
The recipes today will use couscous in three distinct parts of the meal. The first is the traditional side dish. The second is a great change-of-pace salad and the third is a delicious desert that is both quick and tasty.
Let’s get cooking.
Couscous on the side
1 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons onion, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
In a hot saucepan add in the olive oil and sweat the onions, garlic, and apricots. Cook this until the onions just start to brown. Add in the chicken stock and cumin and bring to a boil. Let this boil on high for about 5 minutes.
Slowly stir in the couscous. Remove from the heat and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes. Flake with a fork, adjust the seasonings and serve.
Mediterranean Couscous Salad
1 1/2 cups couscous
2 1/2 cups chicken broth or water
1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers, diced
1/4 cup green onion, minced.
1/2 cup black olives, sliced thin
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring chicken stock to a boil. Slowly stir in couscous. Stir in red bell peppers and olives. Cover and let sit for about 10 minutes for couscous to absorb liquids.
Flake with a fork and drizzle on lemon juice and olive oil stirring with the fork. Allow to cool, then add onion, artichoke hearts, feta and capers. Season and serve.
Coconut and Date Couscous
1 cup couscous
1 cup water
1 cup sweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup dates, rehydrated and chopped
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons toasted coconut for the garnish
Combine water, coconut milk, honey, zest and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
When boiling, remove from heat and slowly stir in couscous until well combined. Allow it to sit covered for about ten minutes or until liquid is all absorbed.
Stir in the dates and almonds. Garnish with the toasted coconut.
Chef Lou Rice is division chairman of hospitality and culinary studies at Ozarks Technical Community College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail letters to OTC, Attn: Chef Lou Rice, 1001 E. Chestnut Expressway, Springfield, MO, 65802. Put “Questions for Chef Lou” in the subject line of your e-mail or on the envelope.