Meet This Grain: Couscous

by in Healthy Tips, October 14, 2009

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Okay, couscous isn’t technically a grain, but it is made from them. Find out more about this international delight and easy ways to jazz it up.

What Is Couscous?
Some say couscous (pronounced koose-koose) is pasta because it’s made from a mix of semolina wheat and water; others argue that couscous predates pasta so it’s its own thing. Either way, couscous is in a wide spectrum of cuisines, including North African, Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian.

Back in the day, making it was very labor intensive because the finely ground wheat and flour were mixed by hand and pressed through a sieve. These days, machines do all the work. The couscous you find at your market has been steamed twice and dried. This way you only need to cook it briefly in boiling water, stock or broth.

There are various types of couscous; the most popular ones are Moroccan, Israeli and Lebanese. The smallest, Moroccan is about three times the size of cornmeal and cooks up in about five minutes. Israeli couscous (a.k.a. pearl couscous) is the type my family prefers. It’s larger than traditional couscous with a rounder shape (more like a peppercorn) and takes longer to cook. The largest of the three, Lebanese is about the size of a small pea and takes the longest to cook (similar to risotto).

Why Is Couscous “Healthy Eats”?
One cup of cooked couscous contains 176 calories, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein with no sugar or fat. It also contains two-third your daily recommended selenium. Looking for more fiber? Choose whole-wheat couscous; it has about five to six grams of fiber per serving and is available in many markets.

What To Do With It?
Couscous has a mild taste and picks up the flavors you cook it with. Go sweet and savory by mixing in cranberries, raisins, apples or pomegranate seeds. Or cook some in a broth or stock for a savory boost and mix in carrots and peas. A holiday favorite in my house is to add mushrooms or pine nuts — delicious!

My children beg me for couscous on a daily basis (strange, right?). I make the Israeli variety like this: Sauté chopped onions and garlic with a touch of olive oil until the onions are golden brown. Then add uncooked couscous and let it brown for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper and chopped parsley and stir to combine. Add in some water, cover the pot and in 10 minutes it’s ready to eat. We enjoy it as a versatile side. You can also use Israeli couscous in place of orzo in any recipe.

For the pre-cooked Moroccan couscous, the prep method is a bit different. First measure out your water, stock or broth and bring it to a boil. Take the pot off the heat and add couscous. Then you just cover it and let the pot stand for 5 minutes. To serve, just fluff with a fork and dish out.

[Photo by Tarteausucre / Recipezaar]

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