What is Couscous?

Couscous are tiny balls of dried dough, made from durum wheat semolina. Semolina is a course flour, ground from durum wheat. Durum wheat is a type of hard wheat, with a pale yellow endosperm, used to make pasta. So both pasta and couscous are made from Durum wheat.

Couscous is traditionally cooked by steaming and served like rice. It can be served hot or cold. Properly steamed couscous is light and fluffy and pleasant to eat.

Couscous is a staple food throughout North Africa in countries like Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Libya, Egypt and from Chad to Senegal and eastern Arab countries.

The couscous sold in western supermarkets (instant couscous) has been pre-steamed and dried and is rehydrated by adding 1.5 cups of boiling water or stock to one cup couscous and letting it soak, covered for about 5 minutes. It’s much easier to prepare than the traditional one.

Instant Couscous myfavouritepastime.com

Couscous can also be made from other grains. Barley couscous is known as abelbul, maize couscous (abaddaz), Millet couscous (Sorghum bicolor), Pearl millet couscous (Pennisetum glaucum; syn: P. americanum). (The Penguin Companion to Food)

The size of the couscous grains is variable. The standard size is 2 mm diameter and is called seksu or kuskusu, the ultra fine one is 1 mm diameter (seffa or mesfuf) and the larger one is 3 mm diameter (Berkukes or mhammsa). The larger grains are usually steamed and then thrown into the stew to finish off the cooking process. (The Penguin Companion to Food)

How is couscous made?

Couscous is made from durum wheat semolina (a course flour milled from durum wheat). Traditionally they use freshly ground whole durum wheat.

Traditionally, semolina is sprinkled with cold salted water and then rolled with the hand to from small pellets. The small pellets are sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate and then passed through a sieve to separate the small ones that don’t meet the required size. The smaller ones undergo the same process of wetting with cold salted water, rolling into pellets and sprinkling with dry flour until all the grains are used up. The formed pellets are dried in the sun and stored. The process of couscous production is now mechanized, but traditionally several women come together to share this laborious process of couscous making.

How to Cook Coucous

Photo Courtesy of Catskingloves (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org) or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In North Africa, couscous is steamed in a traditional steamer called Taseksut or couscoussier (French).

Meat or vegetable stew is cooked in the bottom pot and couscous is placed in the top pot and covered. The lid has several holes around the edge to allow steam to escape. As the stew bubbles in the lower pot, the steam cooks the couscous and the flavour from the stew infuses into the couscous.

Couscous can be steamed over stew and used as you would rice, or steamed over water and then flavoured with milk or yoghurt.

How to Serve Couscous

Couscous is a staple food like rice so it’s generally served with vegetables or stews/curries made from all kinds of meat including chicken, lamb, mutton, fish, seafood or camel meat.

By Khonsali (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL (www.gnu.org], via Wikimedia Commons
Couscous can also be made into a dessert. Pale fluffy couscous is sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and served with flavoured milk or buttermilk.

In Egypt it’s eaten as a dessert. Fluffy couscous is prepared with butter , cinnamon, raisins and topped with cream.

Couscous is also eaten in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

How to Store Couscous

Once dried, couscous can be kept for months or years.

myfavouritepastime.com Last Updated: December 12, 2018

Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

15 thoughts

  1. Couscous is a delicious almost rice-comparable food that you eat and enjoy, my personal experience was from a Moroccan family friend that used to cook it and send it over.

    1. I have never really eaten the “real stuff”, just the store-bought instant couscous. I would love to try the real stuff

        1. I live in a very small City, maybe I can find some in Toronto. Next time I’m in Toronto I shall check it out. Thanks!

        2. Toronto is awesome, use to drive up there to watch Toronto FC (it’s a 3 hour drive from where we are in Michigan). I also love the waterfront! Hopefully one day I will visit with the kiddos. I miss Canada (big big sigh!)

        3. Are you Canadian? you should visit one day. Most of my family is in Toronto. I prefer a smaller City. My sister used to live by the waterfront, like a stone throw away. It was awesome. Toronto is 50 minutes from here.

        4. No! But we have a special connection with Canada, we love it! The people are super friendly, down to earth and the general atmosphere of the country is awesome. We spent our honeymoon getting lost in the Canadian Rockies, we went to Alberta, Edmonton, Banff, and our last stop was in Lake Louise, it is a heavenly place to visit, the views, the nature, the animals, I can go on endlessly about this topic.

        5. I saw the likes just now and remembered this message. I’ve been rather pressed for time. I am so glad you love Canada. I adore it too! That must have been one hell of a honeymoon. I am yet to visit lake Louise. My friend recently moved to Alberta and am planning a big trip out there sometime this year. She loves it there except for the cold. Have a great weekend.

        6. I bet, we went there in the end of June and it was chilly, but the views more than make up for it. Also housing cost was crazy high when we checked it there 😀

        7. I can imagine. I love travelling but sometimes I just can’t afford it. I hope to travel more once all my kids go to college!

        8. Ha ha that is an awfully long, long time. 15 years ago I used to say that. Now it’s just around the corner. Years fly by. You’ll soon get there!

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