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Couscous: It’s neither grain nor pasta
Photo: Mark Boughton

Culinary chat rooms clamor with debate over whether couscous  is a grain or a pasta. Let’s resolve the foodie feud by saying that, technically, it’s neither. Traditionally, couscous was made by rolling moistened semolina (the hard cracked wheat produced by the first crushing in the milling process) in a bowl of flour. Since it isn’t made with a conventional dough, it’s not a true pasta-and the flour coating takes it past the point of being simply a grain.

Most Western couscous is pre-steamed and requires no actual cooking. Just soften in boiling water; in minutes, it’s ready to eat.

Couscous is incredibly versatile. Enhance the taste by adding minced garlic, ginger and green onions and soften with hot stock rather than water. In African and Arab cuisine, couscous forms a bed for dishes that bear its name, and you can create easy, one-pot meals by stirring couscous into vegetable sautés along with juicy tomatoes or stock toward the end of cooking. It also makes satisfying cold salads, perfect for lunch boxes.

Handmade couscous was a staple of the Berber culture of North Africa, ideal for nomads because it required little in the way of implements. It could be steamed in woven twigs or reeds over a pot of stew and scooped with the fingers. If you’re a couscous lover, you may want to invest in a couscoussière, a double-boiler type pot that cooks stew in the lower pan and steams couscous in the top pan.

Coconut Couscous

Serve this dish with garlicky grilled shrimp or beef. Or add a can of garbanzo beans for a hearty main dish.

    1     cup water

    2     garlic cloves, chopped

    1     tablespoon olive oil

    1/2     cup uncooked couscous

    1/4     cup chopped dried apricots

    1/4     cup raisins

    11/2     tablespoons curry powder

    1/4     teaspoon cayenne pepper

    1/8     teaspoon salt

    2     tablespoons chopped pistachios

    2     tablespoons shredded coconut

    1/4     cup chopped green onions

Bring water to a boil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add garlic and olive oil. Stir in couscous, apricots, raisins, curry powder, cayenne and salt. Bring to a boil again and then remove from heat. Cover with lid and let stand 10 minutes. Garnish with pistachios, coconut and onions. Serves 2.

Source: Recipe by Meg Letson.

Per serving: 472 calories, 14g fat, 10g protein, 79g carbohydrates, 9g fiber,181mg sodium.

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