If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you already know how important it is to switch up the ingredients that you use for your daily meals. Eating the same dishes every day can get monotonous, so it’s always wise to look for exciting new ingredients and recipes to try. That way, you’ll never get bored with what you eat!
In this post, we’ll fill you in on a grain that can add some life and excitement to simple meals, one that we think is pretty underrated. Today, we’re talking about couscous.
What Is Couscous?
Couscous is made from small, round pieces of semolina, a byproduct of durum wheat. Pieces of semolina look like tiny pearls, and they have a pleasant neutral flavor that pairs well as a side dish with a wide variety of soups, stews, and sauces.
The grain has been enjoyed in numerous parts of the world for centuries, and it can be prepared in a number of creative ways. It’s a staple food in North African cuisine, and you’ll frequently find recipes for Moroccan couscous and Lebanese couscous. This type of grain contains mostly carbohydrates, but it’s also a reliable source of plant-based protein.
How Is Couscous Made?
Couscous is made by milling wheat into flour using large steel rollers. During the milling process, larger, coarser pieces of the wheat get separated from the smaller pieces. The larger pieces are called the starch, while the larger ones are categorized as wheat bran and wheat germ. The starch is what’s used to make couscous.
At a specific point in the process of milling wheat, the starch gets separated from the bran and germ. To make couscous, the starch is ground into a special type of flour called semolina flour. This flour contains quite a few important vitamins and minerals, including significant amounts of vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin B9, potassium, and zinc.
In some parts of the world, other types of flour are used to make couscous instead of semolina. In some cases, grains like barley or millet serve as the basis for couscous, but using semolina is still the most popular way to make it.
When it comes to cooking couscous, there are several different styles. However, most of them require that you boil water, stir in the couscous, and then let it sit. Before serving, you’ll fluff it with a fork.
Types of Couscous
There are several different types of couscous you might find at your local grocery store. The variety you choose can have a major impact on the flavor and texture that you get. Let’s explore the most popular couscous varieties to get you familiar with the unique qualities of each.
- Pearl couscous is one of the largest varieties of the grain that you’ll encounter. The pieces of couscous are about the same size as peas, and they are typically enjoyed in Israel and parts of North Africa. Pearl couscous is sometimes referred to as Mograbia, and it tastes slightly sweet and nutty. This type of couscous is frequently paired with garlic and lemon juice.
- Israeli couscous is sometimes called Ptitim, and it was originally produced by the Osem food company. Israeli couscous is made from extruded molded dough, and it has the nuttiest flavor of all of the couscous varieties. In addition, Israeli couscous has a bit more protein per serving than other varieties of the grain.
Is Couscous Pasta?
The question of whether couscous is a type of pasta is the subject of intense debate among foodies. Couscous is made using processes similar to those used to produce pasta, but it might be better to refer to the grain as pasta’s cousin.
Couscous is made with semolina, which sets it apart from most types of pasta and prompts some people to put them in entirely separate categories. In addition, each piece of couscous is smaller than a typical noodle by a wide margin, which is another reason to categorize them separately.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether couscous belongs in the pasta family or is in a league of its own.
Where Couscous Comes From
Couscous is grown and harvested in abundance in several parts of the world. It’s a staple in several parts of North Africa, including Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Immigrants from these nations to France brought couscous with them, and the grain is frequently enjoyed there as well.
How Is Couscous Traditionally Cooked?
There are plenty of different ways to use couscous in recipes, and the grain is traditionally enjoyed around the world with a variety of other ingredients. Below are some of the most common pairings for couscous.
- In Tunisia, couscous is often paired with harissa sauce, a combination of roasted red peppers, spices like cumin and coriander, and olive oil. The sauce is pretty spicy, and its flavor envelops each piece of couscous and makes the grain taste more exciting than ever.
Traditional Tunisian pairings with couscous include fish and other types of seafood, which are doused with the spicy harissa sauce.
- In Morocco, couscous can either be enjoyed as a sweet or savory dish. When served as a dessert, the grain is topped with almonds, cinnamon, and sugar, then steeped in milk. Dessert couscous is also steamed multiple times to make it as fluffy as possible, giving the grain a light and fluffy texture.
- Savory and spicy couscous is eaten throughout Northern Africa with a combination of veggies, broth, and meat. Vegetables commonly paired with couscous include carrots, potatoes, and turnips, as well as starchy veggies like sweet potatoes and squash. Broth made with chicken, beef, or vegetables is often also used to give the couscous more flavor. Finally, the combination of vegetables and broth is topped with a type of meat – usually lamb or chicken – and served.
- In Mauritania, couscous is often produced with larger wheat grains, which make the individual pieces bigger than usual. Couscous in this part of the world is sometimes paired with camel meat as well as a type of clarified butter called ghee.
What Foods Pair Well With Couscous?
Couscous is an incredibly versatile grain that tastes phenomenal when paired with just about anything. While it’s not very common to see the grain in sweet dishes and desserts, it’s not unheard of, either – as you’ve learned, dessert couscous is a tradition in Morocco. However, the most common pairings for couscous are savory foods like meat and vegetables.
If you’re looking for simple and affordable ingredients to make with couscous, we recommend any of the following:
- Beef or lamb: Darker meats taste fantastic over a bed of couscous. To add some extra flavor to the couscous, we recommend cooking it with some added broth or stock.
- Potatoes: Starchy vegetables are frequently paired with couscous as part of a stew or soup. If you want a hearty plant-based meal, combine potatoes, couscous, and some carrots with broth to make a filling stew.
- Cheese: We love pairing couscous with a bit of feta cheese and some spicy harissa paste. Our recipe for couscous with feta and spices is quick and simple, and it’s the perfect dinner for a busy night.
- Fresh herbs and spices: Cilantro, mint leaves, and garlic are all excellent pairings for a fluffy bed of couscous. Our recipe for couscous with olives and pine nuts gets a major boost of extra flavor from these ingredients, as well as some acidity from fresh lemon.
Is Couscous Healthy?
Couscous is delicious, but flavor isn’t all the grain has to offer – it’s good for you, too. Let’s explore some of the key health benefits of adding couscous to your plate.
- The grain contains plenty of protein. A cup of couscous offers between five and six grams of plant-based protein, which can make a major difference in the nutritional value of a meal. Eating a healthy, balanced diet means getting plenty of the three key macronutrients – carbohydrates, fat, and protein – from high-quality sources, and couscous can definitely play a role in helping you reach your nutritional goals.
- The grain is an excellent source of selenium. Selenium is an important mineral that aids in thyroid functioning and acts as a powerful antioxidant. Just one serving of couscous will help you meet a significant portion of your daily selenium needs.
- Couscous contains some fiber as well. Like other whole grains, couscous is also a reliable source of fiber. Your body needs plenty of fiber for proper digestion, and plant foods like couscous are the best way to get a sufficient amount in your diet.
Is Couscous Gluten-Free?
If you have a gluten intolerance or allergy or suffer from an autoimmune disease like celiac, foods made with wheat and barley are probably nowhere to be found in your pantry. For people with even a mild gluten intolerance, glutinous foods can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including bloating, diarrhea, and fatigue. Avoiding gluten-based foods at all costs is the best way to keep these symptoms at bay if you’re allergic or intolerant.
Unfortunately for our gluten-intolerant friends, couscous is made with semolina, which is a byproduct of wheat. That means the grain isn’t compatible with a gluten-free diet. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to couscous that you can still enjoy if you have to avoid gluten. These include quinoa, short-grain rice, and cauliflower rice.
Our Favorite Recipes With Couscous
Looking for ways to add couscous to your weekly menu? You’ll love these recipes!
- Our tuna, rice, and cilantro salad can easily be made with fluffy couscous instead of rice. The fresh cilantro and red onions pair perfectly with the light, nutty flavor of the couscous, and you’ll definitely want to make enough for seconds.
- Our couscous salad with chicken meatballs is a tasty one, too, topped with a creamy yogurt sauce for some extra Mediterranean flair.
- The Moroccan beef skewers with couscous and yogurt recipe is one you’ll definitely want to make over and over. It tastes just like what you’d order from a Moroccan food cart!
There’s Plenty to Love About Couscous
Couscous is a versatile, healthy, and easy-to-make grain that is right at home in a variety of dishes. Try adding some to your next stew, serving it with lamb or beef, or using it as the base for a salad or grain bowl. You won’t regret it!