So really, what is couscous? Many incorrectly believe it’s a seed-grain of some kind. No, not exactly. Some people think it’s rice. Nope, not that either. And some people think it’s pasta. Not really that either. So what is it? It’s semolina. Semolina is used tomake fresh pasta, but how I usually see it is on the bottom of pizza – that grainy stuff that’s almost like cornmeal, but isn’t. Technically it used to be the “floor sweepings” from a wheat mill – the stuff that flew out of the grindings. But they discovered it was worth saving and is now retrieved in wheat processing. It’s also frequently used in dog food because of its high energy content. And just to make it more complicated, Israeli couscous is a completely different animal – it’s actually pasta. It is about the size of tapioca balls. It’s pretty flavorless too.
Now that I’ve completely turned you off from eating couscous (sorry), I’ll tell you that it makes a really nice side dish for lots of Mediterranean cuisines and especially Moroccan food. Morocco is one of the few countries that still make couscous as an everyday dish (it’s considered their national dish). Years ago couscous was made almost solely from millet, which IS a grain (find it in health food stores). But somewhere in the last hundred years the Africans decided to switch to wheat. No one seems to know why.
One of the nice things about couscous is that the type we buy here in the U.S. is nearly all pre-cooked. Perhaps you can find the uncooked type, but anything I’ve ever purchased is “instant.” Meaning that all you have to do is add hot water and in less than a minute it’s ready to eat. In the old-time methods women sat in groups every week or so and made them by hand – a very tedious job for sure. Thankfully because of mechanization, it’s just a byproduct of wheat production.
What I will tell you, though, is that couscous all by itself is just about the most blah, bland thing you could put in your mouth. To me it’s flavorless. In order to make it interesting you MUST add things to it. First and foremost, chicken broth, or some kind of flavorful broth. Next you might want some onion in it (flavor and crunch), then you can add all kinds of other things (like red bell pepper, green onion, nuts, dried fruit, even some vegetables would work too). In this case it was dried apricots and almonds mostly. But it also has fresh mint in it too.
I used it for two dinners (the lamb kebabs and the saffron chicken tagine) and it was perfect for both. The chicken has some broth stuff as part of it, and it was delicious drizzled or soaked with the couscous. Made both more flavorful. I wouldn’t make couscous – this one or any other – unless I was serving a Mediterranean meal, or specifically a Moroccan dish – just because I think there are other grains that are more flavorful. But occasionally couscous is just the right thing, like this time. I am posting the saffron chicken tagine recipe too, as well as the lamb kebabs. The couscous was great with both.
What I liked: I suppose you could say that couscous is a blank canvas – kinda like tofu – in that you can make it – flavor it – any way you want. But flavor it you must, and this one with dried apricots and almonds was a good variation on the couscous theme.
What I didn’t like: hmmm, nothing really. But making it on its own, just “because” – uh, no I probably wouldn’t. It needs a highly flavorful protein or veggies to go with it.
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import
Apricot Almond Couscous with Mint
Recipe By: Phillis Carey, 2012
Serving Size: 8
Serving Ideas: This could be served with any kind of stew-type Mediterranean meal – chicken, pork, lamb, fish, even beef.
NOTES: Be sure to remove pot from heat once you add the couscous – it will overcook (and become sticky and gummy).
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red onion — finely diced
1/3 cup dried apricots — coarsely chopped (or dried cranberries)
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 whole green onions — green parts only
1/4 cup fresh mint — roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro — chopped
1 1/2 cups couscous — (about 1 pound)
1/3 cup slivered almonds — toasted (350° 7 minutes)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a medium saucepan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add red onion and apricots and saute until onion is translucent and slightly fragrant. Add chicken broth, salt and lemon zest and bring to a boil.
2. Stir in the couscous, cover and remove from heat; let stand for 5-10 minutes. Uncover and toss in the green onion tops, mint, cilantro and almonds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 8g Fat (29.1% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.