Eat Your… Couscous


Couscous is a pasta made from hard wheat semolina grains that are crushed, mixed with water, and shaped into spherical granules generally about 1-2 mm in size. During processing the grains are dehydrated for packaging, to be hydrated again when cooked.

Difficult or Easy?

While researching couscous, I learned that not all couscous is the same. Both traditional and pre-cooked types are available — pick the wrong one, and you’re looking at 5 hours versus mere minutes. For traditional preparation, couscous must be steamed two to three times, over a broth or stew, in a device called a kiskis or couscoussiére. With pre-cooked couscous all you need is a pot of boiling water and 5 minutes of your time.

Needless to say, most couscous sold in the United States today is the pre-cooked variety. This type is what I will focus on today.


Couscous originated in North Africa, in the region containing Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, by the 13th century. Most sources credit its invention by the Berbers, who inhabited the area well before the Arabs. (which then spread couscous to the Middle East, where it is widely used today).

Originally, couscous was made from hard wheat durum (semolina). Variations made from millet, barley, corn, and rice are also available. Some types, such as Israeli couscous, feature a larger grain size.


Historically, couscous was used as a base for soups or stews. Many inventive cooks have found alternate destinies for couscous, served hot or cold, in salads, curries, spreads, desserts, and casseroles. Like quinoa, couscous also makes a great substitute for rice. It is truly a diverse pasta, and if you’ve never tried it, now is the time!

Couscous recipes on Google Base

Cooking Tips

Couscous is, by far, the easiest pasta to cook. Most recipes say to add a prescribed amount of boiling water to a measured amount of couscous and let it sit for 5 minutes in a pot. While this works, the weight of the couscous grains prevent the entire lot from expanding properly. I’m going to outline a better way that will make the couscous turn out lighter and fluffier.

1. Bring 3 cups water, 1 tsp salt, and 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil to a boil.

2. Spread 2 cups pre-cooked (or “instant”) couscous into a shallow baking dish (8×8 inch works great).

3. Pour boiling water over couscous, cover with lid or plastic wrap, and let sit for 15 minutes. A cold oven is a good place to put it while you wait, especially if you lack counter space.

4. Fluff with a fork and enjoy!


See you next week!

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Now Playing: Heaven Up Here by Echo & The Bunnymen.

Ben is a graduate student at NCSU studying Crop Science with an emphasis on Sustainable Agriculture. Official foodie credentials are non-existent, other than the fact that he has been cooking for himself since he was 12 years old. You can find his personal blog at, photos and videos at bengarland’s Flickr photostream, and his plans for a self-constructed cob house and organic farm over at Our Farm Adventure (still a very new work in progress).