Meet This Grain: Couscous

Okay, couscous isn't technically a standalone grain but it is made from them. Find out more about this international delight and easy ways to enjoy it.

Okay, couscous isn't technically a grain, but it is made from them. Find out more about this international delight and easy ways to jazz it up.

What Is Couscous?

Some say couscous (pronounced koose-koose) is pasta because it's made from a mix of semolina wheat and water; others argue that couscous predates pasta so it's its own thing. Either way, couscous is in a wide spectrum of cuisines, including North African, Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian.

Back in the day, making it was very labor intensive because the finely ground wheat and flour were mixed by hand and pressed through a sieve. These days, machines do all the work. The couscous you find at your market has been steamed twice and dried. This way you only need to cook it briefly in boiling water, stock or broth.

There are various types of couscous; the most popular ones are Moroccan, Israeli and Lebanese. The smallest, Moroccan is about three times the size of cornmeal and cooks up in about five minutes. Israeli couscous (a.k.a. pearl couscous) is the type my family prefers. It’s larger than traditional couscous with a rounder shape (more like a peppercorn) and takes longer to cook. The largest of the three, Lebanese is about the size of a small pea and takes the longest to cook (similar to risotto).

Why Is Couscous “Healthy Eats”?

One cup of cooked couscous contains 176 calories, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein with no sugar or fat. It also contains two-third your daily recommended selenium. Looking for more fiber? Choose whole-wheat couscous; it has about five to six grams of fiber per serving and is available in many markets.

What To Do With It?

Couscous has a mild taste and picks up the flavors you cook it with. Go sweet and savory by mixing in cranberries, raisins, apples or pomegranate seeds. Or cook some in a broth or stock for a savory boost and mix in carrots and peas. A holiday favorite in my house is to add mushrooms or pine nuts — delicious!

My children beg me for couscous on a daily basis (strange, right?). I make the Israeli variety like this: Sauté chopped onions and garlic with a touch of olive oil until the onions are golden brown. Then add uncooked couscous and let it brown for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper and chopped parsley and stir to combine. Add in some water, cover the pot and in 10 minutes it’s ready to eat. We enjoy it as a versatile side. You can also use Israeli couscous in place of orzo in any recipe.

For the pre-cooked Moroccan couscous, the prep method is a bit different. First measure out your water, stock or broth and bring it to a boil. Take the pot off the heat and add couscous. Then you just cover it and let the pot stand for 5 minutes. To serve, just fluff with a fork and dish out.

    Here are some of my favorite brands:
    Recipes to try:
[Photo by Tarteausucre / Recipezaar]
Keep Reading

Next Up

Meet This Grain: Amaranth

This under-appreciated grain is a perfect way to get in your whole grains, plus it’s gluten-free. Get tips on cooking it and creative recipes to try this tiny grain.

Meet This Grain: Polenta

You might be surprised to learn that whole-grain cornmeal is packed with nutrients. Wait until you discover all the things you can do with the versatile Italian delicacy, polenta.

Meet This Grain: Oats

We’re all pretty familiar with old-fashioned rolled oats, but there’s more to this whole grain than oatmeal -- steel cut oats, oat flour, oat bran and more.

Meet This Grain: Spelt

This grain (a wheat relative) has more protein and B-vitamins than wheat and may be tolerated better by those with wheat sensitivities. Get better acquainted with whole grain spelt and my investigation into the spelt vs. farro debacle.

Meet This Grain: Freekeh

Freekeh is a whole grain that's had new-found popularity lately. If you haven't seen it on supermarket shelves you will soon.

Meet This Grain: Farro

This ancient whole grain has been making a comeback! It's versatile, easy-to-make and downright delicious.

Meet This Grain: Bulgur

Although bulgur wheat is not as well known as the other whole grains, it’s just as nutritious and delicious!

Meet This Grain: Kamut

This ancient treasure has been around for centuries and is considered to be the great-great grandfather of grains. Find out how to cook this high protein grain and why it’s back in fashion.

Meet This Grain: Brown Rice

You’re probably familiar with brown rice but it doesn’t always get the love it deserves. Find out all the delicious ways you can savor this easy to cook whole grain.