The word 'couscous' is originally either from the Arabic word, kuskus, from kaskasa, which means 'to pound'; or the Berber k'seksu, which means 'well formed or rolled'. It is a traditional North African dish and the national dish of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. It is pleasantly bland and granular, mainly made out of hard wheat that is ground. It is also made from grinding other hard grains, such as barley, millet, sorghum, rice, or corn. It is rolled by hand into various consistencies, quite similar to pasta, to form different shapes. Good couscous is usually characterized by its fineness of consistencies and lack of lumps when steamed.
One of the very first recorded references of couscous is in an anonymous 13th century Hispano-Muslim cookery book. The Nasrid royalty in Granada have known this dish. A famed Arab traveler, Leo Africanus (c. 1465-1550), also mentioned, "Of all things to be eaten once a day, it's 'couscous', because it costs a little and nourishes a lot."
French traveler, Jean-Jacques Bouchard, has written in the time of 1630 of having eaten in Toulon, a "certain kind of pasta, which is made of tiny little grains like rice and which puffs up considerably when it's cooked. It comes from Levant and is called courcoussou".
Algerians make this eatable from fine and medium semolina, steamed over water, with melted butter called samna. This is the simplest of its recipes. The southern Algerians make theirs out of the soft wheat, rye, and barley; whilst the northern Algerians make it out of semolina made of hard wheat. The Tunisians like them a little broader and of medium size. Jewish cooks might use olive oil when they prepare this dish.
The Traditional Cooking Method
The way to prepare this dish in the authentic manner involves two steps:
- Humidifying and drying
The grains are rolled until the granules appear. Later they are sifted with sieves. Sieves with holes of varied diameters are responsible for the size of the granules obtained. It is later sun-dried, and then either stored or cooked. Well-cooked couscous is always fluffy and light; and the one that is badly or overcooked goes to the extent of becoming mushy and isn't much of a delight, unless you're toothless and lacking in culinary appreciation, or thoroughly starved.
North African Lamb Couscous & Vegetable Stew Recipe
This recipe uses a two month old lamb, which is tender and devoid of any fat. It is best to cook this lamb and vegetable stew with a bouquet garni of thyme, rosemary, and fennel. The names of the vegetables circumscribe along the lines of:
- White cabbage
- Beginning with the vegetables in the pot, boil for 20 minutes, until tender. The vegetables and bouquet garni are stewed in the usual way that stews are made, along with chickpeas, olive oil, saffron, coriander, salt, and ground white pepper.
- The couscous is steamed in a colander above the stewing pot. It is wet with a cup of water, the pot in which it is placed is lined with a muslin cloth. After the lid is placed on the top with a little sliver of a gap letting excess steam to escape, it is steamed for 10 minutes.
- Then, a knob of butter is stirred into it and another cup added. It is ready to be steamed for another 10 minutes.
- The previous step is repeated again, making it a third time.
The way to serve it is make a mound of the cooked couscous on your plate, flatten it, hollow it in the center with the spoon, and lay the lamb as base and the steaming vegetables on top of it. For some fiery spice to add to the taste, you can also make use of some paprika and chilly powder if you like spicy food.