Couscous, a staple of North African cuisine, embodies the essence of versatility and flavor fusion. This crowd-pleasing pasta originated in the Berber culture around the 11th century and has since traversed continents and become a beloved dish worldwide. Its appeal lies not only in its simplicity but also in its adaptability, lending itself beautifully to various culinary interpretations. At its core, couscous is made from semolina wheat, hand-rolled into tiny granules, and the name is used to refer both to the granules themselves and a stew that is traditionally served with them.
Its light, fluffy texture serves as a blank canvas for an array of ingredients and allows for endless creativity in the kitchen. Whether steamed, boiled, or toasted, the preparation method imbues couscous with distinct characteristics, like nuttiness or fluffiness. Additions ranging from aromatic spices like cumin and cinnamon to vibrant vegetables, succulent meats, and zesty citrus all enhance the pasta's profile. Traditional recipes feature couscous paired with savory stews, such as Moroccan tagines or Tunisian merguez, to create hearty, comforting meals that satisfy both body and soul. Yet, couscous transcends cultural boundaries, seamlessly integrating into global cuisine. Mediterranean-inspired salads showcase its versatility, combining fresh herbs, juicy tomatoes, and tangy feta for a refreshing twist. So, let's take a look at some recipes that will allow you to enjoy couscous at its finest, whether in a traditional or more innovative form.
Moroccan couscous is possibly the best-known couscous recipe there is. This warm salad of chickpeas, veggies, herbs, and, of course, couscous brings a range of North African flavors to life.
Be sure to cook the couscous in a flavorful chicken broth instead of water for added depth. A few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil will also add some heartiness. And don't forget to sauté your ingredients at the end. This dish is best served warm, so the flavors can really pop.
Recipe: Moroccan Couscous
One key feature that distinguishes Israeli couscous from the more common North African variety is the larger size of the grains -- which are so rotund that they look more like tapioca than couscous. A benefit of this extra heft is that the grains can be more easily tossed and evenly coated in salad dressings or other sauces.
This recipe, made with olive oil, lemon, mint, parsley, cucumber, chickpeas, and onions, is a prime example. Serve warm or at room temperature -- it will be tasty either way.
Recipe: Israeli Couscous
Cranberry And Sage Pearl Couscous
Impress dinner party guests with a dish that is easy to make, nice to look at, and good to eat. That dish is our cranberry and sage pearl couscous, which combines the beautiful ruby red color of the cranberries with the deep green of the fried sage leaves on top.
These ingredients pull double duty, though, because they also constitute the bulk of the flavor, while the couscous acts as a filling and neutral backdrop for texture. The roasted pumpkin and toasted walnuts seal the deal.
Caramelized Butternut Squash With Pearl Couscous
The larger grains of pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous, make an ideal complement to the soft and sweet nature of caramelized butternut squash in this recipe.
But the blend of flavors here is more sophisticated than that. You can amp up the sweetness factor with maple syrup and honey, then bring it back down with savory and spicy mustard. Top it all with sweet chopped pecans and red onions to continue the sweet and spicy theme.
Baked Harissa Zucchini With Whipped Feta And Couscous
If you thought zucchini were boring, combine them with couscous and harissa seasoning and think again. To make this dish, don't forget to score the zucchini before you bake them -- this will allow the harissa and other ingredients to seep into the vegetable as it cooks. The squash will come out with a subtle caramelized and smoky flavor, complemented by the spiciness of the harissa.
Just be sure to treat your zucchini carefully. Choose a young one, as older ones can turn bitter, and whatever you do, don't overcook it. A floppy zucchini will just taste like water.
Harissa Sirloin Steak With Carrot-Cous Cous Salad
If you like mixing strong flavors to unlock new and surprising combinations, this recipe is for you. Between the sirloin steak, spicy harissa, and bright pomegranate molasses, you'll hardly know what hit you.
And the best part is that this recipe won't take long to make, especially if you like your sirloin cooked rare. Just prepare the meat, cook the couscous, combine it with herbs and veggies, and top everything with that pomegranate molasses and a light vinaigrette. Something so simple has never been so flavorful.
Cuisine across North Africa and the Middle East can vary significantly, but that doesn't mean Israeli couscous can't pair well with an Egyptian spice. In this case, that spice is dukkah: a blend of hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds.
Rub this blend on a fresh halibut filet -- especially on the bottom, so it doesn't stick to the pan -- and cook it until it becomes crusty and flaky. This light but tasty protein will make the ideal accompaniment for the fluffy couscous salad.
Recipe: Dukkah-Crusted Halibut
Limey Black Bean Couscous Salad
When we say couscous is versatile, we really mean it. That is, it can be combined with any other cuisine outside of North Africa and still be just as delicious as in its traditional preparation. One example of this culinary magic trick is this limey black bean couscous salad, which has undeniable Southwestern charm.
Aside from pearl couscous, the main ingredients are black beans, vegetables, and a tangy dressing made with lime. The addition of corn and cilantro will remove any doubt that this dish stands firmly in the realm of Southwestern cuisine.
Recipe: Limey Black Bean Couscous Salad
Simple 1-Pan Chicken Tagine
Although couscous and tagine are both distinct, separate Moroccan dishes, there's no rule against combining the two. This recipe does just that in a way that couldn't be simpler, as the tagine doesn't require the specialized cooking vessel in which it's traditionally made, also called a tagine. Instead, use a Dutch oven and turn the recipe into a one-pan dish.
As for the couscous, we're talking about the grain here, not the dish itself. This starch will do a great job of soaking up all the spices and tang of this chicken tagine.
Recipe: Simple 1-Pan Chicken Tagine
Moroccan Chickpea Stew
No stew is complete without a good starch to go with it -- since this element will take on the juices and make sure they don't escape onto the plate. And what better starch to use for a Moroccan chickpea stew than Morocco's very own couscous?
Serve your stew right on top of those delightful little grains, and they'll instantly take on the flavor of all that tasty cinnamon, cumin, ginger, diced tomatoes, and stock you used in this recipe.
Recipe: Moroccan Chickpea Stew
Easy Baked Harissa Chicken
Maybe it's because the two come from the same part of the world, but it seems like couscous will always pair well with a dish made with harissa. A case in point is our easy baked harissa chicken. This seasoning paste is made with dried red chile peppers, garlic, citrus, cumin, coriander, and olive oil.
The recipe is indeed as simple as it sounds. You'll just have to plan ahead a little in order to allow the chicken to marinate in the harissa rub for at least half an hour. Serve with couscous and your meal is complete.
Recipe: Easy Baked Harissa Chicken
Grilled Greek Chicken Grain Bowl
Grain bowls can be made out of any kind of grain, like rice, quinoa, and barley, along with different pairings of proteins and veggies. The variation we have in mind here is one made with couscous, grilled chicken, cucumbers, and a light and refreshing Greek yogurt dressing.
Although this recipe calls for a lot of ingredients, it remains simple and easy to make. Aside from cooking the chicken, it really is just a matter of throwing a bunch of those ingredients into a few bowls to make the marinade and dressing. Then, just toss everything all together, and it's done.
Recipe: Grilled Greek Chicken Grain Bowl
Harissa Beef Pot Roast
A pot roast is a filling and satisfying meal, but it never seems to be quite complete without the addition of a grain on the side. In the case of this harissa beef pot roast, we suggest couscous as the starch.
Although pot roast is distinctly American, the addition of harissa and cumin gives it a North African touch, making couscous the ideal choice as an accompaniment. Bear in mind that harissa can be spicy, so you'll be glad to have the more neutral couscous there to temper the heat.
Recipe: Harissa Beef Pot Roast
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