Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An old standby

Today I'm going to tell you about couscous. It's easily one of my favourite things to eat. It's versatile, delicious, and--you guessed it--real easy. One of the greatest things about couscous, assuming you're using the instant variety typically found at your local grocery store, is it can be ready in less than ten minutes. 

Instant couscous is pre-steamed and dried and only requires boiling water. You pour 2/3 cup of couscous into every 1 cup of water, stir, cover, remove from heat, and let stand for five minutes. Voila! Couscous. Ready to eat once you fluff it with a fork.

Now couscous by itself, boiled in plain water, can be rather bland, but this is where its versatility comes in. You can cook it in vegetable stock, chicken stock, beef stock (any stock really), orange juice, and the list goes on. I think you could probably cook it in any potable liquid. It will take on the flavours it's cooked in.

Made of semolina, couscous is an important food in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya, where it is steamed, rather than boiled like the instant variety. In this case the vegetables and meat are cooked as a stew while the couscous sits in a steamer above it, absorbing the flavours. The pairing with meat and vegetables is common in the above countries, though in Egypt it is often served as dessert with sugar, cinnamon, raisins, nuts, and cream. It also makes a great salad.

Like I said: versatile.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures for you today. The salad I made was eaten so quickly that by the time I remembered to take one, it was gone. This salad is perfect in the summer when it's too hot to really cook anything, and you're looking for something light. It's made with oranges which serves to add a tangy, refreshing quality to it.

I wish I had a more clear-cut recipe for you, but it's one of those things that I kind of just throw together with whatever I happen to have lying around. So I'll give you my best estimates, but just know that you should adjust them however you see fit. The dressing is more accurate.

Orange Couscous Salad

2/3 cup couscous, uncooked
1 cup chicken stock

1 can mandarin oranges or 1 fresh orange
1 or 2 large carrots, grated
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2/3 cup dried raisins or cranberries


1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp minced gingerroot
1/8 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Cook couscous according to directions on the box. If the ratios are different than what I listed above, use those ones.

Toss cooked couscous with oranges, grated carrots, almonds, and cranberries.

Whisk together all ingredients for dressing and add to salad. The recipe may provide more dressing than you need, so add a little at a time to ensure you don't drown your salad. It should coat it and add flavour, not turn it into soup. 

And that's it. Easier than pie. Change up any of the elements as you will. Try pine nuts or currants. Oftentimes I'm missing one of the ingredients above so I just make it without. It'll taste good anyway.

As for other recipes, there are plenty of them out there, so take a look around. It's great in place of rice or pasta with a meal. As for me I think I'd like to check out that Egyptian dessert couscous. I'll let you know if I find something worth sharing.

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