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10.20.2003

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can you 
do the couscous?
how to make real Moroccan couscous
 
by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3

I always liked couscous. Light, tasty, and with a cute name to boot, couscous wasn't my absolute favorite carb in the world, but it was a-okay nonetheless. Plus, there was the fact that it took a scant five minutes to prepare. Couscous' no-fuss nature made it a fabulous alternative to pasta or rice, particularly on nights where I was too tired or lazy to slave over the stove

So when my boy and I went to Morocco on our honeymoon two years ago, I failed to understand why all the guidebooks pushed couscous as such an incredibly special treat. Sure, I could imagine that each Moroccan cook had a special family heirloom recipe for the stew, but the guidebooks' claim that couscous was a long labor of love seemed, well, an exaggeration. I mean, I'd read my couscous box, and I was hard-pressed to imagine how it was possible that couscous could require more than 5 minutes of prep time maybe seven tops, if you were really conscientious about the fluffing.

The traditional method of cooking couscous involves gently steaming the couscous over the stew with which it'll be served. As it turns out, steaming the grains, rather than boiling, makes all the difference. While the couscous I'd been dumping boiling water on in my kitchen had been pretty good, my first big plate of Moroccan couscous was a revelation. Lighter, fluffier, tender without being mushy, each tiny ball of couscous rolled separately over the tongue. I inhaled that first plate of real couscous -- and many more over the next three weeks of my travels. And when I came home, I promptly sought out a good Moroccan cookbook, and set out learning how to cook couscous the proper traditional way.

Maybe you think you've had couscous. But if you've been following the shortcut directions on the back of the box: trust me, you really haven't tasted couscous yet. On the next cool, gray weekend where you find yourself with a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of you, treat yourself to couscous done the long, slow, authentic way.

what is couscous?
Couscous are tiny little pellets of rolled grain, usually semolina. The word also refers to the complete dish, which in Morocco is served in a large plate with the steamed couscous grains piled in a soft pyramid, crowned by a wealth of richly spiced meats and veggies, and all of which is topped off by enough stew to moisten the grains.

Any couscous you normally prepare the 5 minute quickie way can also be prepared the time-consuming traditional method. I generally find it's cheaper to buy couscous from the bulk bins at the health food store than in those little boxes you get at the supermarket.

mosey along this way

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