Couscous is one of the staple foods of the Maghrib (western North Africa). Couscous is made from two different sizes of the husked and crushed, but unground, semolina of hard wheat using water to bind them. Semolina is the hard part of the grain of hard wheat (Triticum turgidum var. durum), that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive medieval millstone. When hard wheat is ground, the endosperm—the floury part of the grain—is cracked into its two parts, the surrounding aleurone with its proteins and mineral salts and the central floury mass, also called the endosperm, which contains the gluten protein that gives hard wheat its unique properties for making couscous and pasta–that is, pasta secca or dried pasta, also called generically macaroni. Couscous is also the name for all of the prepared dishes made from hard wheat or other grains such as barley, millet, sorghum, rice, or maize.
Although the word couscous might derive from the Arabic word kaskasa, “to pound small,” it is generally thought to derive from one of the Berber dialects because it does not take the article indicating a foreign language origin. It has also been suggested that the word derives from the Arabic name for the perforated earthenware steamer pot used to steam the couscous, called a kiskis (the French translation couscousière is the word English-speaking writers have adopted), while another theory attributes the word couscous to the onomatopoeic–the sound of the steam rising in the couscousière, the most unlikely explanation. (Read full article)
Many times I include couscous as a side dish, but I like it on its own as well. Couscous salads are easy to make and one can add a variety of other ingredients. Here’s a easy recipe to which I have added other ingredients that I had at home, but feel free to add your favorite ones.
FOR 4 TO 6 PEOPLE
- 2 cups of dried couscous / 2 cups of hot water
- 2 onions or 1 onion & 2 small shallots chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic chopped
- 4 sundried tomatoes in oil sliced
- 1/2 red pepper (fresh or in oil) cut into small pieces
- 1 pack of fresh mushrooms
- Frozen spinach – (about 200g thawed)
- 1/4 cup of nuts (used hazelnuts)
- 1/4 cup of dried cranberries (or any other dried fruit of your choice)
- Dried spices (used turmeric, parsley & chives)
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Olive oil (about 1/4 cup or a bit more, depending on your taste)
- Balsamic vinegar
Wash and slice the mushrooms and let them drain. Place the couscous in a large bowl and add the hot water. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes. In the meantime chop onions, shallots and garlic and in a large skillet or frying pan sauté until golden. Check if the couscous have soaked all the water and with a fork flake it apart. Couscous should be loose and fluffy.
Back to the stove, to the onions, add the sliced mushrooms, let cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, then add the spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, pepper and cook for another minute or two. You can add salt at this stage.
Once you feel everything is cooked to your taste turn off the stove, add the couscous to your mixture. Toss it in order to combine everything and add the spices, nuts, cranberries and more salt if needed.
Mix everything well and season with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste.
Photo credit: Despertar pra viver – Awaken for living