Couscous has been popular among many different cultures, one of the first written recipes for couscous is found in a 13th century Hispano-Muslim cookbook, which references the recipe as “known all over the world”. Many people think of couscous as Middle Eastern or Mediterranean in origin, but it is really from Western Africa where details of cooking and making couscous date back to the 10th century. Today, couscous remains a staple in Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian cuisine.
Couscous is a relative newcomer to the American family table. The increasing interest in vegetarian and ethnic cuisines explains much of the reason for seeing more couscous on menus and dinner tables. Couscous is pasta that is made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat). It is considered an unrefined carbohydrate (carb) which is a great source of energy for the body. Carbs, in general, have gotten a bad wrap. The main culprits are the simple ones (i.e. white rice, sugar, etc) which are not processed well in the body nor do they have much nutritional value. Unrefined carbs on the other hand are efficiently processed by the body to make energy, and contain many nutrients that have been shown to be protective against chronic diseases like cancer.
Along with being a good source of energy, couscous is also low in fat, a good source of fiber, and contains some protein. Couscous has a subtle taste that is slightly nutty. It is a great substitute for rice with many meals, and is a nice accompaniment to many different cuisines.
Age to introduce: 10-12 months
Toddler Treat: Sand Castles
Just the name of this side dish is cool enough for a little kid to give it a try, and the great taste will keep ’em digging in.
- 1 box (5-6 oz) of couscous
- 1 (14 oz.) can chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup frozen peas & carrots combo
- 1 small ramekin or small glass cup (this is the mold for your castle)
Cook peas and carrots according to the package directions. Prepare couscous according the package directions, but substitute the same amount of broth for the amount of water called for on the package. You can add water to the broth to make up any difference in the amount of liquid called for on the package. After fluffing the couscous with a fork, add the olive oil and the peas and carrots mixture to the couscous and mix gently.
To make the sand castles: Simply spoon the couscous mixture into the ramekin or glass cup, and pack the mixture down using the back of the spoon. Place a dinner plate over the top of the ramekin and turn the plate over, gently remove the ramekin. Viola, a sand castle!
Couscous For The Family
At the market: Couscous can be found in the rice or pasta section of grocery stores. It is also commonly sold in the bulk section of stores too. Couscous is available in plain, flavored, and organic varieties. Common brands of couscous include Near East, Kasbah, and Rice Select.
The most common type of couscous are tiny grains. Israeli couscous or pearl couscous, is a larger version. If you’d like to give Isreali couscous a try, you’ll find it in a specialty market or International Food Section of your grocery store .
Storage: Store couscous in a sealed container or box in the pantry.
Preparation: Couscous is a terrific rice substitute, and is about five times faster to make. Most packages include cooking directions, but here is the general idea. Boil water or stock. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat, cover and let stand about 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork. Serve
Hint: Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the couscous to prevent it from being too dry.
Quick ideas to add couscous into your family meals:
Endless variations: After fluffing with a fork, you add a few simple ingredients that will take couscous from bland to gourmet. The possibilities are endless but here are few simple ideas:
- Chopped black olives, chopped cashews and halved cherry tomatoes
- Roasted peppers and chopped fresh chives
- Chick peas, 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice and chopped cilantro
- Lentils, green peas and 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- Chopped marinated artichokes and crumbled feta cheese
- Black beans (rinsed), cooked corn, 1 Tablespoon lime juice and chopped cilantro
Make a couscous bed: If you are grilling fresh fish or shrimp, serve it on a bed of “citrus-infused” couscous. Make couscous according to the package. After you fluff it with fork, add 2 tablespoons of orange juice, a can of mandarin oranges (drained) and 2 tablespoons of chopped chives. Garnish with slivered almonds or pine nuts.
Couscous and Fresh Spinach: An excellent accompaniment to grilled lamb, beef, or Portobello mushrooms, this dish is the right mix of sweet, salty, and crunchy.
- 1 (6 oz) box couscous
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 2 Tbsp pine nuts
- 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, lightly chopped
- ½ tsp garlic salt
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Directions: Make couscous according to package directions, adding 1 tbsp of olive oil. Fluff couscous with a fork. Toss in raisins, pine nuts, spinach, garlic salt, and cinnamon. Cover for 3-5 minutes or until spinach has wilted. Serve.