One thing going for couscous is that it goes with just about anything. As a starter salad, main course, and yes, even as dessert, the humble couscous can be the delicious answer. Regarded by some as a healthier alternative to rice and pasta, this North African staple is both versatile and incredibly easy to prepare.
Couscous used to be produced painstakingly by hand, from durum wheat, or semolina, and involved the grain-like pellets being rolled to shape between the palms, sieved, and then dried for several hours. In Morocco, groups of women got together to produce large batches over few days. Today, modern methods are employed to cater for the growing demand throughout the world, with factories producing a large variety for numerous brands.
Having undergone steaming and drying processes, the couscous sold in shops is now available in instant form. Meaning that the tiny grain-like balls are ready for consumption after just a few minutes of soaking in boiling water, or steaming, as per the instructions on the packet.
Apart from the utter ease with which it can be prepared, what makes the couscous even more appealing is the unlimited range of dishes that go so well with it. Widely used in the northern African countries, couscous is mostly eaten with the spicy meat and vegetable stews traditional in that region. As its popularity spread to Europe and the rest of the world, its versatility meant that the dish was easily adapted to local tastes and ingredients. Couscous goes well with the less fiery casseroles of Europe, with grilled meat, and vegetables. It is also popular as a salad, with any combination of tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet corn, cucumbers, spring onions, mint, etc. Again, depending on individual tastes and ingredients readily available in the region.
The use of couscous for dessert or as a light snack is mostly found in the countries of its origin. Enjoyed with butter milk, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and also with dried fruits or nuts, the bland taste of couscous on its own is ideal for mixing with a variety of subtle and bolder flavors. Condensed milk? Why not?
If you have not yet tried couscous, you may want to try a dish from those offered by some local restaurants, including Jazz Café which has a light and tasty Moroccan Chicken couscous. Seagull Café too includes couscous on their menu, with grilled chicken.
If you like this alternative to rice, you are in luck because several shops stock different varieties, from plain instant couscous which only need a few minutes preparation time, to some mixed with vegetables. I found that Fantasy Store offered quite a good selection.
Sometimes, when you experiment with food, you are rewarded with a pleasant and delicious surprise. Just imagine, using left over fish curry spooned over couscous, to make an instant meal. Or preparing an elaborate casserole for a family meal or special dinner, opting for couscous over rice, pasta or even bread. Either way, I don’t think you will be disappointed with this tasty and simple food.
In the modern world, where eating habits and choices often reflect the attitudes and health consciousness of the general population, it is common to see a particular food become somewhat of a rage, and then slowly fade away. Couscous, perhaps due to its long history in some parts of the world, gained a steady following over decades and remains a firm favorite to this day.
Words & Photos by Fasah Ahmed