The past few months of diabolical difficulty have turned our focus toward survival. Carb-rich foods have come into their own as affordable, shelf-stable and easy to prepare staples (not to mention the mood boosting benefits). Pasta was one of the foods to disappear from my local supermarket shelves as a result of stockpiling. There was couscous still on the shelf so I guess not everyone is as familiar with this speedy side dish.
Couscous is a kind of tiny pasta made of hard durum wheat semolina that looks a bit like coarse sand and has a mild nutty, sweet flavor. The name may have come from the Arabic word ‘kaskash’ which means to pound into small bits. Couscous is typically steamed, although in Western supermarkets it is most often sold in a pre-steamed, instant form to which you add boiling water (or stock) and allow the ‘grains’ to swell making it quick and easy to prepare. Pearl (or Israeli) couscous also known as moghrabieh is larger balls of crushed durum wheat semolina about the size of small peas, which is boiled to prepare.
Couscous is a traditional staple food in North Africa and served with a stew/casserole on top, such as Moroccan tagine (stew). Tagines and other stews served lend themselves to tasty, interesting, thrifty, healthy and environmentally sustainable meals that include pulses and legumes, vegetables, nuts, fruit, spices and small amounts of meat. For example, chickpea tagine with almonds, chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon, or beef tagine with dates. Stews can also be made in a slow cooker that saves times and boosts flavor. Couscous can also be used to make salads in a similar way to rice and pasta.
Couscous is low in fat, high in carbohydrate and contains around 14% protein. Instant couscous has a medium GI (around 65), while some pearl varieties are low (around 52). Most couscous is not wholegrain but seek out wholemeal varieties when you can for added nutritional benefits.
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, author, consultant, cook and food enthusiast who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious.
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