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Couscous: Long-Term Maghreb Staple Still Going Strong

(Encyclopedia of the Orient [http://lexicorient.com/e.o/]; Detroit News – 08/08/02; BBC News – 04/06/04; Biloxi Sun Herald – 11/11/04)

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The word 'couscous' may have come from the Berber word seksou. Other possible origins include the Arabic word kaskara -- which means to pound small -- the Arabic word kiskis for the steamer pot it is cooked in or from the actual sound of the steam rising during cooking.

Couscous spread from the Maghreb to Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The dish was brought in the 13th century to the Iberian peninsula, where it became popular among the Moors. A period of Muslim rule from 829 to 1063 may be responsible for couscous turning up in Sicily. Portugal brought the food in the 16th century to its Brazilian colony, where it is a popular breakfast item today.

The low-fat source of complex carbohydrates is becoming increasingly popular in America and other health-conscious Western nations. Other reasons for the surge of Western demand is growing vegetarianism, the current popularity of Mediterranean cuisine, the influx of Maghreb immigrants, the ease of preparation and couscous's adaptability to many flavours and dishes.

Couscous consists of two parts semolina and one part mixture of flour, salt and water. Preparations begin with handfuls of the semolina being sprinkled with salty water. Flour is added while the portions are fluffed on a clay tablet by hand. Small grains are separated during the process. Oil is added when the grains reach the right size, which makes the couscous ready for the addition of meat and vegetables.

While some poor and rural areas still employ the traditional means of baking couscous, many people buy the product already formed. Another option is to make several-weeks supply at once and store it in a dry place until needed. Tunisians add the spice harissa to make the grains spicy and red in colour.

Couscous remains a popular North African ingredient because it is inexpensive and versatile. The food, which the region associates with nationalism and cultural identity, is often served on Fridays. During family feasts and celebrations, the inclusion of couscous represents solidarity. The food is also a key part of diffas, multi-dish feasts served during festivals. By serving couscous at festivals such as those marking the end of Ramadan, the food is associated with abundance.

The appeal of the dish is evident in a catering college in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria, breaking an unofficial Tunisian record by preparing the world's largest couscous in June 2004. The "Guinness Book of World Records" was on hand to ratify the record dish, enough to serve 22,000 people. The couscous contained 2,600kg of dry semolina, meat from 100 sheep and 1.5 tonnes of vegetables. The kiskis, which sat on a three-tonne stove, was 4.3m wide and 8m deep.

Couscous's reign of popularity could be threatened by upstart quinoa, an ancient Incan ingredient enjoying resurgence. The grains are nuttier, more bitter and less chewy than its competitor -- although they are the same size and colour. The main weapon of quinoa in the grain battle is that its higher level of protein and lower level of carbohydrates makes it more nutritious than couscous and other cereal grains. The disadvantage of the interloper is the bitter-tasting resin that coats its seeds, though the effect can be mitigated through rinsing it underwater before cooking.

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  1. Anonymous_thumb

    Al filali 2010-9-13

    I travel a lot and I got to take the three types of couscous – the Moroccan. Algerian and Tunisia. And, I can tell you completely honestly that Moroccan couscous is the best in taste and presentation. They are the best! It is no accident that Moroccan cuisine ranks third in the world. Indeed, their neighbouring cuisines – Algeria’s and Tunisia’s – are still fighting to identify and distinguish themselves from their number-one rival, Moroccan cuisine.


  2. Anonymous_thumb

    Sally 2009-10-11

    We LOVE cous cous here in Tennessee. But it's very expensive and I'm trying to find a way to buy it cheaper. I tried it after a friend told me about sharing a fabulous meal with her Moraccan friends. Our fav way to eat cous cous: I boil a whole chicken in a large pot, adding probably a quarter cup of chicken bouillon (the wet kind). After the chicken is cooked, I reserve the stock, and we pick the chicken (hey, it ain't glamorous but it's good) into bite sized pieces. I cook the cous cous in the chicken stock where it absorbs all the yummy chicken stock and fat. I serve the cous cous in a large baking dish, then pile the chicken in the middle, surrounded by fresh green beans cooked with a few strips of bacon and sauteed onions. YUM!!! We just use tongs to pile it on our plates. This feeds a family of 7, with leftovers. For smaller families, use less chicken, but keep the skin on while it's cooking or the cous cous will be bland.


  3. Anonymous_thumb

    Berber_algiera 2008-11-13

    Couscous is not jewish! its a food of the people of all of the Africa's how stupid and low people are to claim a single grain of wheat to be jewish!! come on ! how insane ! want to jewish-cize the food and lets face it judaism is a relgion! IN response of this comment :salmi Posted 2006-10-18 The roots of couscous come from North African Jews well before the advent of Islam in this region. the dish became authentically Berber (Amazigh) before the expansion (of Islam) into Arab lands.


  4. Anonymous_thumb

    امل 2008-5-31

    Ingredients and preparation method. In a special bowl for couscous, Berma, put 1 kilogramme of meat + a big chopped onion + a spoon and half of pepper + a small spoon of ginger + a big spoon of salt + half a cup of oil. Leave everything for 10 minutes over a flame, then add half a litre of oil + carrots + turnips. Let everything cook for 30 minutes. Take a kilogramme of semolina couscous and put it to vaporize 3 times. The first and second times, spray water on semolina and the third time, add oil. Add to the bowl on the fire half a medium cup of minced tomatoes + pumpkins + aubergines + cabbages + hot pepper + a bucket of parsley and a little butter. Let everything simmer for 1 hour then begin presenting the dish either in a big dish or big bowl. Put vaporized semolina then add the meat, vegetables and bouillons according to taste. Bon appétit.

    Email address removed by the editor.


  5. Anonymous_thumb

    boras 2008-5-28

    No other North African country has the variety of couscous and delicacy as Morocco. Moroccan couscous is legendary for a reason.


  6. Anonymous_thumb

    نوزهة 2008-5-27

    Moroccan couscous is the most famous dish in the world; we are proud of this delicious Moroccan dish.


  7. Anonymous_thumb

    lamia 2008-4-17

    Greetings to you. Thank you very much for this article which shed light on this old dish, couscous, or as we call it in the east of Algeria ‘Berboucha’. I consider it as heritage which is still featuring our daily life and we must preserve it and contribute to defining it.


  8. Anonymous_thumb

    سعوديه 2008-4-15

    I want to taste Moroccan couscous. If only I could find a restaurant that prepares it. But you should remove or hide the picture of the woman, this is intolerable.


  9. Anonymous_thumb

    argaz 2008-3-30

    Hi and azul felawen, In my opinion, due to the grains that form its base, the vegetables in its sauce and the meat that goes with it, couscous is a dish full of vitamins. In addition, be it Algerian, Moroccan or Tunisian, it is all the same a convivial dish, my dear friends.


  10. Anonymous_thumb

    عد نك 2008-3-6

    Couscous is the symbol of Moroccan authenticity.


  11. Anonymous_thumb

    ahmed 2008-2-9

    Thanks, thank you.


  12. Anonymous_thumb

    فرح 2008-2-7

    Miam, its taste is good. I liked Couscous a lot, I liked it from the very start.


  13. Anonymous_thumb

    سارة 2008-2-2

    The best dish is Couscous namely the Algerian.


  14. Anonymous_thumb

    شوقي زعيمي 2008-1-7

    Couscous is a complete dish, it is popular in the Arab Maghreb. Its nutritional value is varied. When it’s prepared with lamb meat, your body benefits of proteins for the development and construction of blood cells, muscles and protein tissues. As to its grains (semolina prepared by hand), it’s transformed from starch ---barley sugar---glucose and the latter helps you produce energy in the body. As to vegetables with which Couscous is prepared, they include chickpea, carrot, turnip, pumpkin, courgette, eggplant which are rich in vitamins, mineral salts which contribute to health, building bones, as to the greasy tissue in the lamb meat, it makes you acquire a resistance to cold in a cold day, therefore it’s a complete dish.


  15. Anonymous_thumb

    سميرة 2007-12-19

    Couscous, in addition to being a complete dish, is very delicious.


  16. Anonymous_thumb

    soukaina 2007-10-27

    Give me some couscous from Morocco.


  17. Anonymous_thumb

    Ryan 2007-9-22

    Having tasted many variations of couscous while traveling across north africa, i must say that the algerian couscous is by far the most delicate ... Maybe the french have contributed a bit of 'je ne sais quoi' to make it stand out from the rest.


  18. Anonymous_thumb

    mustapha 2007-6-16

    Couscous is the best dish in the world.


  19. Anonymous_thumb

    laila 2007-5-16

    Couscous is the best dish I tasted, there's nothing like the Moroccan Couscous


  20. Anonymous_thumb

    يانيس بلقاسمي 2007-4-18

    How is couscous prepared


  21. Anonymous_thumb

    myriam 2007-3-18

    Couscous with veggies and tomatoe sauce as it is known worldwide was invented in Algeria, in Mitidja plain, during the 19th century. French settlers introduced vegetables from South America, such as zucchinis, green pepper, potatoes and above all tomatoes. Couscous then came to France with the return of the "pieds noirs" and Algerian Jews.


  22. Anonymous_thumb

    دنيازاد 2007-3-8

    The best dish is the Algerian Couscous, because it's originally from there, then it spread to other places.


  23. Anonymous_thumb

    طارق 2007-2-23

    There's no couscous in India. I've tasted it and liked it a lot. I want to prepare it at home, how is that possible!!!


  24. Anonymous_thumb

    Swapna B 2007-2-15

    Couscous is not available in India,I taste it,like it very much.I want to make at home but how it possible to me!!!


  25. Anonymous_thumb

    beat artist 2007-1-31

    I recently began eating and preparing my own couscous and I am officially addicted to it. I eat about 2 cups of it everyday. Couscous is delicious when it is drizzled with blood orange avocado oil, fresh pepper, pinch of salt, and harissa. I just finished a big bowl of it. Stomach is full and feeling good.


  26. Anonymous_thumb

    mig 2007-1-7

    cous cous? fingerlicking good if you ask me


  27. Anonymous_thumb

    العلمي زينب 2006-12-20

    Couscous is the most delicious dish in Morocco, ordinarily eaten by Moroccan families on Friday. Its holiness stems from that of this preferred day of the week for all Muslims


  28. Anonymous_thumb

    yassine 2006-11-23

    Hello, it's Yassine Ouafi. The couscous is very good.


  29. Anonymous_thumb

    ع - ق - خ . 2006-11-20

    There is no meal better than couscous. Peace be upon you.


  30. Anonymous_thumb

    salmi 2006-10-19

    The roots of couscous come from North African Jews well before the advent of Islam in this region. the dish became authentically Berber (Amazigh) before the expansion (of Islam) into Arab lands.


  31. Anonymous_thumb

    siham 2006-9-22

    This is not authentic Moroccan couscous



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