Couscous (pron.: // or //) (Amazigh: ⵙⴽⵙⵓ, seksu ) is a traditional Berber dish of semolina (tiny granules of durum wheat) which is cooked by steaming. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya.
The name is derived from Berber language (Berber:seksu [meaning well rolled, well formed, rounded]). Numerous different names and pronunciations for couscous exist around the world. Couscous is // or // in the United Kingdom and only the latter in the United States. In Berber it is known as Seksu or Kesksu and in Arabic: كسكس pronounced Kuskus. It is also known as: taam (طعام) in Algeria,"Kseksu" or "Kesksu" in Morocco; Kuseksi-in Tunisia, Libya and Kuskusi (كسكسي) in Egypt. Keskes in Tuareg.
One of the first written references is from an anonymous 13th-century North Africa/Andalusian cookbook, Kitāb al-tabǐkh fǐ al-Maghrib (North Africa) wa'l-Andalus (Arabic) "The cookbook of the Maghreb and Al-Andalus", with a recipe for couscous that was 'known all over the world'. To this day, couscous is known as 'the North Africa national dish'. Couscous was known to the Nasrid royalty in Granada as well. And in the 13th century a Syrian historian from Aleppo includes four references for couscous. These early mentions show that couscous spread rapidly, but generally that couscous was common from Tripolitania to the west, while from Cyrenaica to the east the main cuisine was Egyptian, with couscous as an occasional dish. Today, in Egypt and the Middle East, couscous is known, but in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya couscous is a staple. Couscous was taken from Syria to Turkey in the 16th century and is eaten in most of the southern provinces.
One of the earliest references to couscous in France is in Brittany, in a letter dated January 12, 1699. But it made an earlier appearance in Provence, where the traveler Jean Jacques Bouchard wrote of eating it in Toulon in 1630. Couscous was originally made from millet. Historians have different opinions as to when wheat began to replace the use of millet. The conversion seems to have occurred sometime in the 20th century, although many regions continue to use the traditional millet. Couscous seems to have a North African origin. Archaeological evidence dating back to the 10th century, consisting of kitchen utensils needed to prepare this dish, has been found in this part of the world.
The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate, and then sieved. Any pellets which are too small to be finished granules of couscous and fall through the sieve will be again rolled and sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny granules of couscous. This process is very labour-intensive. In the traditional method of preparing couscous, groups of women would come together and make large batches over several days. These would then be dried in the sun and used for several months. Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive millstone. In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and the product is sold in markets around the world.
Properly cooked couscous is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. Traditionally, North Africans use a food steamer (called a كِسْكَاس kiskas in Arabic or a couscoussière in French). The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked as a stew. On top of the base, a steamer sits where the couscous is cooked, absorbing the flavours from the stew. The lid to the steamer has holes around its edge so steam can escape. It is also possible to use a pot with a steamer insert. If the holes are too big the steamer can be lined with damp cheesecloth. There is little archaeological evidence of early diets including couscous, possibly because the original couscoussière was probably made from organic materials which could not survive extended exposure to the elements.
The couscous that is sold in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried, the package directions usually instruct to add 1.5 measures of boiling water or stock and butter to each measure of couscous and to cover tightly for 5 minutes. The couscous swells and within a few minutes it is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than regular couscous, most dried pasta, or dried grains (such as rice).
In Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.) cooked in a spicy or mild broth or stew, and some meat (generally, chicken, lamb or mutton).
In Algeria and Morocco it is also served, sometimes at the end of a meal or just by itself, as a delicacy called "seffa". The couscous is usually steamed several times until it is very fluffy and pale in color. It is then sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Traditionally, this dessert will be served with milk perfumed with orange flower water, or it can be served plain with buttermilk in a bowl as a cold light soup for supper.
In Libya, it is mostly served with meat, specifically beef, lamb, or camel, in Tripoli and the western parts of Libya, but not during official ceremonies or weddings. Another way to eat couscous is as a dessert; it is prepared with dates, sesame, and pure honey, and locally referred to as "maghrood".
In Tunisia, it is made mostly spicy with harissa sauce and served with almost everything, including lamb, beef, camel, and poultry. Fish couscous is a Tunisian specialty and can also be made with octopus in hot, red, spicy sauce. Couscous in Tunisia is served on every occasion; it is also served, mostly during Ramadan, sweetened as a dessert called masfouf.
In Egypt, couscous is eaten more as a dessert. It is prepared with butter, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and nuts and topped with cream.
Couscous is also very popular in France, where it is now considered a traditional dish, and has also become popular in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Indeed, many polls have indicated that it is often a favorite dish. Although introduced in France by the pieds noirs (people of European descent who used to live in Algeria), many couscous restaurants are now owned by people originating from Algeria. In France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, the word "couscous" (cuscús in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian) usually refers to couscous together with the stew. Packaged sets containing a box of quick-preparation couscous and a can of vegetables and, generally, meat are sold in French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese grocery stores and supermarkets. In France, it is generally served with harissa sauce.
In North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, couscous is available most commonly either plain or pre-flavoured in quick-preparation boxes. In the United States, it is widely available, normally found in the ethnic or health-food section of larger grocery stores.
There are recipes from Brazil and other Latin American countries that use boiled couscous molded into a timbale with other ingredients. In Northeastern Brazil and among the diaspora of its population in other Brazilian regions, cuzcuz (Portuguese pronunciation: [kusˈkus] locally, kuʃˈkujʃ in Rio de Janeiro, kujsˈkujs in São Paulo), a steamed cake of couscous and corn flour (a mixture called fubá, pronounced Portuguese pronunciation: [fuˈba], said to be of African origin from the slave trade), is a popular meal, served in many forms: With sugar and milk, with varied meats, with cheese and eggs, and so on. In Mexico, there are two dishes called the couscous taco (taco de cuscús) and couscous burrito (burrito de cuscús), which consist of a traditional taco or burrito, respectively, with couscous added, to produce a product similar to a North African pita.
In Palestine, it is typically served in occasions and holidays. It was brought by Moroccan migrants to Palestine, where it has been modified to what’s called maftoul. Although maftoul is considered as a special type of couscous but made from different ingredients and a different shape. Maftoul is an Arabic word derived from the root “fa-ta-la” which means to roll or to twist, which is exactly describing the used method to make maftoul by hand rolling bulgur with wheat flour.
|Serving size 1 cup (173 g)|
|Servings per container Information is per dry couscous as determined by Nutrient Data Laboratory, ARS, USDA.|
|Amount per serving|
|Calories 176||Calories from fat 2|
|% Daily value*|
|Total fat 0.25 g||0%|
|Saturated fat 0.05 g||0%|
|Trans fat 0 g|
|Cholesterol 0 mg||0%|
|Sodium 17 mg||1%|
|Potassium 79 mg||2%|
|Total carbohydrate 36 g||12%|
|Dietary fiber 2 g||1%|
|Sugars 0 g|
|Protein 6 g|
|Vitamin A||0%||Vitamin C||0%|
|*Percent daily values are based on a 2,000‑calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.|
Couscous has 3.6 g of protein for every 100 calories. Furthermore, couscous contains a 1% fat-to-calorie ratio.
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