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What is couscous?

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Question: What is couscous?
I always see recipes for couscous. What is couscous? Can you recommend couscous recipes?
Answer: Despite popular belief, couscous is a pasta, not a grain. It has a rice-like appearance, but is actually made of semolina and wheat flour that is steamed. Couscous is a staple in North African cooking and several variations and recipes exist that infuse a host of ingredients. It is most popular in the Maghreb, a region of North Africa that includes Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Libya. Fruit, vegetables, and meats are all used in couscous, making it an excellent main or side dish that can please just about any palette!

Couscous isn't limited to being a side or main dish, however. It is also used in soups and salads. It can be prepared by pouring boiling water over it and allowing the water and steam to hydrate it. You can also boil it like rice, but this method is not the easiest or most recommended. I always end up letting it cook too long when I use this method and wind up with a mushy consistency -- something you definitely don't want. Special couscous pots are on the market, but can be expensive. They work by steaming the couscous, producing a perfect texture every time. While it is ideal, it's not necessary to have a special pot to prepare couscous. It is one of those kitchen luxuries, like a rice cooker.

In grocery stores, you can find couscous in the pasta section, rice section, or often the "international foods" area in grocery stores. Even though it is considered an international food, it is widely available and you shouldn't have difficulty in finding it, unlike other Middle Eastern food ingredients. Some box varieties already contain dried fruit and seasoning, but I have to recommend that you try to use basic couscous and add your own ingredients. The extra effort will be rewarded in taste! Not that the pre-packaged and seasoned varieties are not good, it's just hat you are limited in flavors.

You may come across couscous of different sizes. Larger couscous is often labeled as "Israeli couscous" or "pearl couscous". It has more of a nutty flavor and a chewier texture than smaller varieties. Because of its size, Israel couscous does take longer to cook than the smaller varieties.

Smaller varieties of couscous are typical of what you find in the Maghreb. The texture is more grainy and less nutty than its cousin, Israeli couscous. This type of couscous can be prepared in a matter o minutes because of its small size. Smaller couscous is often referred to as Libyan or Lebanese couscous. In Middle Eastern countries, you can find the boxed couscous, however, it is often handmade -- a long process that does take some degree of skill to master. Homemade couscous is delicious, but I find that the couscous found in grocery stores is almost just as good and also foolproof. If you can make spaghetti, you can make couscous. It's really that simple.

Using this basic couscous recipe, I urge you to become creative and make the recipe your own. Add fruits and veggies like raisins and carrots or even apples and chicken stock for a creative twist on an old staple. Below you will a sampling of popular couscous recipes, but the list is just a mere fraction of the hundreds and hundreds of couscous recipes that are made.

Couscous Recipes

Below you will find some excellent couscous recipes that are easy and delicious. Couscous is kid friendly and I sure you will find that even the pickiest of children will love couscous. It's a great food that can help you sneak in those fruits and veggies that many kids refused to eat.

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