Couscous is a coarsely ground semolina pasta that is a dietary staple in North African countries. It is also widely used in Middle Eastern countries and has become popular in American dishes. It is made of semolina, flour, salt, and water. Similar to rice in shape, color, and texture, it is used in many dishes as rice would be. One grain is similar in size to a grain of sugar.
Popular in Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, couscous is most often served with meat — mostly chicken, lamb or mutton — and vegetables. Each country seasons it differently. Moroccans use saffron, which creates a yellow colored dish, and might top a dish with fish and a sauce of raisins and onions. Algerians add tomatoes to it and Tunisians create a spicy dish with harissa sauce, a hot pepper sauce.
Couscous is available in a dried, pre-steamed version in many grocery stores. To prepare this type, cooks can pour boiling water or broth over the pasta and then seal the bowl with plastic wrap. After a few minutes, the grain swells and can be fluffed with a fork. When correctly prepared, it has a tender, moist taste and a light, fluffy texture. It is faster to prepare than most types of rice.
In many countries, traditional couscous must be steamed, often in a steamer basket called a kiskis or couscousiera, over a stew of meat and vegetables. It is often served over salmon or chicken dishes. When sweetened with almonds, cinnamon and sugar, or with fruit, it can be a dessert. Another dish combines the pasta and buttermilk for a cold soup.
Combined with beans or peas, couscous makes a salad. Salad versions include vegetable salads, chicken or tuna salads, and southwestern salads. The name is also used to refer to many dishes that are prepared from grains or wheat.
A French side dish combines brie cheese, couscous, onion, garlic, olive oil and butter. Another common dish combines the pasta with mint and lemon. A stuffing can be made using it with raisins and pistachios. Israeli couscous is cooked like pasta and is smaller in size than a pea. The Lebanese version takes longer to cook; it is soaked in hot water for 30-45 minutes.
Couscous is a low-fat, complex carbohydrate, meaning it does not produce rapid spikes in blood sugar. It is often referred to as a grain, but is actually pasta. Like grains, such as rice, it tends to take on the flavor of whatever sauce or other ingredients it is prepared with.