- For the animal also known as cuscus or kuskus, see Phalanger
Couscous or kuskus (IPA /kʊskʊs/ - Berber Seksu - Arabic: كسكس, called maftoul in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) is a food of Maghreb or Berber origin. It consists of spherical granules made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina wheat and then coating them with finely ground wheat flour. The finished grains are about 1 mm in diameter before cooking. Traditional couscous requires considerable preparation time and is usually steamed. In many places, a more processed quick-cook couscous is available and is particularly valued for its short preparation time.
The dish is a primary staple throughout the Maghreb; in much of Algeria, eastern Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya it is also known as ta`aam طعام, "food". It is also popular in the West African Sahel, in France, Madeira island, in western Sicily's Trapani province, and parts of the Middle East. It is also very popular among Jews of North African descent. It is eaten in many other parts of the world as well.
The name is derived from Maghrebi Arabic kuskusu or ksaksu, which is from Tamazight seksu (meaning well rolled, well formed, rounded). The other variant, keskesu is mainly used by the Tuareg. In Libya it is commonly called "kusksi," though "kisksu" is also used. In Malta, something called kusksu is similar but much larger in size. At Trapani in Sicily cuscusu is served with fish.
The couscous granules are made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat) or, in some regions, from coarsely ground barley or pearl millet. The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour to keep the pellets separate, and then sieved. The pellets which are too small to be finished grains of couscous fall through the sieve to be again sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny grains of couscous. Sometimes salt is added to the semolina and water.
This process is very labour intensive. Traditionally, groups of women would come together and make a large batch of couscous grains over several days. These would then be dried in the sun and used for several months. Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the hard wheat Triticum durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive millstone. In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and the product sold in markets around the world.
One of the first written references is from an anonymous 13th century Hispano-Muslim cookery book, "Kitāb al-tabǐkh fǐ al-Maghrib wa'l-Andalus" : The book of cooking in the Maghreb and Al Andalus, with a recipe for couscous that was 'known all over the world'. From the name, it appears that this dish was not Arabic, but Berber. Couscous was known to the Nasrid royalty in Granada as well. And in the 13th century a Syrian historian from Aleppo includes four references for couscous. These early mentions show that couscous spread rapidly, but that in the main, couscous was common from Tripolitania to the west, while from Cyrenaica to the east the main cuisine was Egyptian, with couscous as an occasional dish. Today, in Egypt and the Middle East, couscous is known, but in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Libya couscous is a staple.
One of the earliest references to couscous in Northern Europe is in Brittany, in a letter dated Jan. 12 1699. But it made a much earlier appearance in Provence, where the traveler Jean Jacques Bouchard writes of eating it in Toulon in 1630.
There is some evidence that the process of couscous cookery, especially the steaming of the grain over broth in a special pot, might have originated before the tenth century in the area of West Africa now comprising Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. Ibn Batuta journeyed to Mali in 1352, and in what is now Mauritania he had a pearl millet couscous. He also noted rice couscous in the area of Mali in 1350. Also, for centuries, among the nomadic Berbers, black African women were employed as couscous cooks, another possible indication of the sub-Saharan origin of the dish. 
When properly cooked couscous should be light and fluffy; it should not be gummy or gritty. Couscous is steamed two to three times. The traditional North African method is to use a steamer called a kiska:s in Arabic or couscoussière in French. The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked in a stew. On top of the base a steamer sits where the couscous is cooked, absorbing the flavours from the stew. The lid to the steamer has holes around its edge so that steam can escape. It is also possible to use a pot with a steamer insert. If the holes are too big the steamer can be lined with damp cheesecloth. There is little archeological evidence of early use of couscous, mainly because the original couscoussière was probably made from organic material which would not survive.
The couscous available to buy in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried, the package directions usually instruct to add it to a little boiling water in a pot and covering for 5 minutes to make it ready for consumption. Another quick and easy method is to prepare it by placing the couscous in a bowl and pouring the boiling water or stock over the couscous, then covering the bowl tightly. The couscous swells and within a few minutes is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than dried pasta or grains such as rice.
Recipes and combinations
In Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, turnips, etc.) cooked in a spicy or mild broth or stew, and some meat (generally, chicken, lamb or mutton); in Morocco, couscous can also be topped with fish in a sweet sauce with raisins and caramelized onions; in some parts of Libya fish and squid are also used. The stew in Tunisia is red with a tomato and chili base, whereas in Morocco it is generally yellow.
In Morocco it is also served, sometimes at the end of a meal or just by itself, as a delicacy called "Seffa". The couscous is usually steamed several times until it is very fluffy and pale in color. It is then sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Traditionally, this dessert will be served with milk perfumed with orange blossom water, or it can be served plain with buttermilk in a bowl as a cold light soup for supper.
Couscous is very popular in former colonial power France, where the word "couscous" usually refers to couscous together with the stew. Packaged sets containing a box of quick-preparation couscous and a can of vegetables and, generally, meat are sold in French grocery stores and supermarkets.
In North America and Great Britain couscous is available most commonly as either plain or pre-flavoured, quick-preparation boxes. In the United States it is widely available but largely confined to the ethnic or health food section of larger grocery stores. In the United States, couscous is known as a type of pasta. However in most other countries it is considered a distinct type of cereal food in its own right.
- The name couscous is also used for prepared dishes made from other grains, such as barley, pearl millet, sorghum, rice, or maize.
- Berkoukes are pasta bullets made by the same process, but are larger than the grains of couscous.
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Israeli couscous is a version of North African Berkukes, introduced by immigrants from various parts of North Africa in the early 1950s, and Levantine Maghrebiyya (from the Maghreb) common in Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Couscous was meant to provide a rice substitute for those immigrants from eastern Arab countries and from Persia, where rice was the staple grain. Unlike North African couscous, Palestinian couscous (Maftoul) is not semolina at all, but rather a toasted mixture of bulgur and flour.
- Couscous: about the etymology of the word
- BBC Food Glossary: Couscous
- Encyclopaedia of Food: Couscous New York, USA. Scribner and Sons. 2003, vol. 1, pp. 465-466. (Cuscús)
- Mediterranean and Wold Cuisine: Couscous: History of Couscous by Clifford A. Wright
- Saudi Aramco World article on Couscous : Couscous - The Measure of the Maghrib. Written by Greg Noakes and Laidia Chouat Noakes 1998.
- Magharebia.com: News and Views of the Maghreb article on Couscous: Couscous: Long-Term Maghreb Staple Still Going Strong
- "The March of Couscous" article written by Farid Zadi. Traces how couscous was taken to different countries from its origins in North Africa.
- Couscous DARI - History and origin of Couscous - Couscous recipes: A website from a company that produces and markets Couscous.
- Algerian Cuisine Cookbook: a blog The author is a chef instructor at The California School of Culinary Arts, Le Cordon Bleu. He was born in Lyon, France to Algerian parents.
- Recipe for couscous
- Couscous Video Recipe
References and notes
- ↑ DALLET Jean.-Marie : Dictionnaire kabyle-française, Paris, SELAF, 1982. p. 709.
- ↑ CHAKER, Salem : Couscous : sur l’étymologie du mot
- ↑ FOUCAULD Charles de : Dictionnaire touareg-français, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1950-52, p. 919
- ↑ http://www.canadianliving.com/food/cooking_school/discover_couscous.php Canadian Living Magazine: Discovering Couscous
|History||Domestication · Neolithic Revolution · Tell Abu Hureyra · Aaron Aaronsohn · Evolution: Triticeae|
|Types of wheat||Wheat taxonomy · Common / Bread · Durum · Einkorn · Emmer · Kamut · Norin 10 · Red Fife · Spelt · Winter wheat|
|Agronomy||Wheat diseases (List) · Wheat mildew · Physiological and molecular wheat breeding|
|Trade||Australian Wheat Board · Canadian Wheat Board · International Wheat Council · International wheat production statistics|
|Parts||straw · kernel · germ · husk · bran · gluten|
|Basic Preperations||None: Wheatberry · Milling: cracked wheat, farina / semolina / wheat meal, wheat flour (types of wheat flour), etc. · Parboiling: bulgur|
|As Ingredient||wheat beer · bread · flatbread · crackers · wheat gluten · pasta · couscous|
|Associated Diseases: Coeliac disease · Exercise-induced anaphylaxis · Other Uses: Wheat pasting · Wheat germ oil|
|related concepts||Plant breeding · whole grain vs. refined grains · staple food|
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