Ingredient of the Week: Couscous

Ingredient of the Week: Couscous

Couscous is a wheat based grain found most commonly in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. Its basically a very small pasta made from semolina. Its most commonly found served as an accompaniment to Moroccan dishes, like this Moroccan chicken one pan recipe, but it’s bland flavour makes it a versatile ingredient that can be added to most stronger  flavoured soups, stews, sauces or salads. It is a good source of carbohydrate and can be used as a substitute for rice or pasta. The most common variety of couscous available in supermarkets is the smaller, instant one. The grains have already been steamed and just need to be rehydrated before eating. This is the Moroccan variety and is the type I tend to cook with in my recipes. You can also get Israeli or pearl couscous which is larger in size and takes longer to cook. It has a nuttier and chewier texture than standard couscous and needs to be treated more like pasta but is not as readily available in the shops.

Why is it good for me?

Couscous contains a good range of B vitamins including thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and folate. These play an important role in converting food in to energy that the body can access, building and maintaining healthy red blood cells and keeping the whole body functioning as it should do.

The one mineral that couscous is particularly high in is selenium. This is an antioxidant which works with vitamin C and E to prevent cell damage, fight infection and prevent inflammation. It also helps in the production of proteins in the body so is good for athletes trying to build muscle mass.

How do I prepare it?

Couscous requires very little preparation. Some people prefer to rinse the grains before cooking but I don’t tend to. I simply weigh out the required amount in to a bowl or mug ready for cooking.

How do I cook it?

Couscous is incredibly easy to cook. The simplest way is to pour boiling water over it and leave to stand until the grains have absorbed the water and swollen up. I work off the principle of 1 part couscous to 2 parts water (ie. 125g couscous requires 250ml of liquid to cook). Couscous on it’s own can be very plain, adding herbs or spices to it can really work well. Using stock instead of plain water is another good suggestion. One of my favourite things to do with it is to mix through some dried fruit and nuts, especially apricots and almonds. It works really well with a spicy Moroccan tagine if you feel you want more than just plain couscous.

One of the down sides to couscous is that because the grains are so small it can get everywhere. It’s really difficult to get all of it from your plate to your mouth, especially when you can’t see what you are doing. I generally end up leaving a fair bit of it in my bowl once i’m done eating. For this reason its not my favourite thing to eat but it does make a nice change from time to time and is great for bulking out a salad if you want some extra carbohydrate, like in this chorizo and pear one. 

My favourite recipe I’ve done with couscous so far has to be my Harissa spiced aubergine and eggs. I love that it’s such a tasty meal that is also vegetarian and can either be served for brunch, lunch or dinner. Do you have a favourite recipe with couscous? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and speak soon.


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