Couscous (Berber : ⵙⴽⵙⵓ seksu, Arabic: كُسْكُس kuskus) originated as a Maghrebi dish of small (about 3 millimetres (0.12 in) diameter) steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. Pearl millet and sorghum, especially in the Sahel, and other cereals can be cooked in a similar way and the resulting dishes are also sometimes called couscous.:18
Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya, as well as in Israel, due to the large population of Jews of North African origin.:250 In Western supermarkets, it is sometimes sold in instant form with a flavor packet, and may be served as a side or on its own as a main dish.
Numerous different names and pronunciations for couscous exist around the world. Couscous is // or // in the United Kingdom and only the latter in the United States. It is sometimes pronounced kuskusi (كسكسي) in Arabic, while it is also known in Morocco as seksu; kesksu or (كسكسي) ; in Algeria as kosksi or as ṭa`ām (طعام, literally meaning "food"); in Tunisia and Libya kosksi or kuseksi, in Egypt kuskusi (كسكسي), in Israel it is known as (קוסקוס), or kuskus, in Sicily cuscusu and keskes in Tuareg.:919
Origin and history
The origin of couscous appears to be in the region from eastern to northern Africa where Berbers used it as early as the 7th century. Recognized as a traditional North African delicacy, it is a common cuisine component among Maghreb countries.
Ibn Battuta (b. Morocco, 1304–1368? AD) stated in his Rihlah (Travels), indicating what may be the earliest mention of couscous (kuskusu) in West Africa from the early 1350s:
When the traveler arrives in a village the women of the blacks come with anlî and milk and chickens and flour of nabaq [lotus], rice, and fûnî fonio [a type of millet], this is like the grain of mustard and from it kuskusu and porridge are made, and bean flour. He buys from them what he likes, but not rice, as eating the rice is harmful to white men and the fûnî is better than it.:32
Couscous is traditionally made from the hard part of the durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the millstone. The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate, and then sieved. Any pellets that are too small to be finished granules of couscous fall through the sieve and are again rolled and sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This labor-intensive process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny granules of couscous. In the traditional method of preparing couscous, groups of women come together to make large batches over several days, which were then dried in the sun and used for several months. Handmade couscous may need to be re-hydrated as it is prepared; this is achieved by a process of moistening and steaming over stew until the couscous reaches the desired light and fluffy consistency.
In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and the product is sold in markets around the world. This couscous can be sauteed before it is cooked in water or another liquid. Properly cooked couscous is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. Traditionally, North Africans use a food steamer (called ataseksut in Berber, a كِسْكَاس kiskas in Arabic or a couscoussier in French). The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked as a stew. On top of the base, a steamer sits where the couscous is cooked, absorbing the flavours from the stew. The lid to the steamer has holes around its edge so steam can escape. It is also possible to use a pot with a steamer insert. If the holes are too big, the steamer can be lined with damp cheesecloth. There is little archaeological evidence of early diets including couscous, possibly because the original couscoussier was probably made from organic materials that could not survive extended exposure to the elements.
The couscous that is sold in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried. It is typically prepared by adding 1.5 measures of boiling water or stock to each measure of couscous then leaving covered tightly for about five minutes. Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than regular couscous, most dried pasta, or dried grains (such as rice).
Algeria and Morocco
In Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, potatoes, and turnips) cooked in a spicy or mild broth or stew, and some meat (generally, chicken, lamb or mutton). In Algeria and Morocco it may be served at the end of a meal or by itself as a delicacy called "sfouff". The couscous is usually steamed several times until it is fluffy and pale in color. It is then sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Traditionally, this dessert is served with milk perfumed with orange flower water, or it can be served plain with buttermilk in a bowl as a cold light soup for supper. Moroccan couscous uses saffron. Algerian couscous includes tomatoes and a variety of legumes and vegetables, Saharan couscous is served without legumes and without broth.
In Tunisia, it is made mostly spicy with harissa sauce and served commonly with any dish, including lamb, fish, seafood, beef and sometimes in southern regions, camel. Fish couscous is a Tunisian specialty and can also be made with octopus, squid or other seafood in hot, red, spicy sauce.
In Libya, it is mostly served with meat, specifically mostly lamb, but also camel, and rarely beef, in Tripoli and the western parts of Libya, but not during official ceremonies or weddings. Another way to eat couscous is as a dessert; it is prepared with dates, sesame, and pure honey, and locally referred to as "maghrood".
In Israel, and among members of Sephardic Jewish communities in the diaspora, couscous is a common food. Couscous is not indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean, and arrived in the region with the migration of Jews from North Africa to Israel in the 20th century. Since then it has become a very popular dish in the country, and it is a staple of the Sephardic community and people of all backgrounds.
In addition, Israelis of all backgrounds commonly eat ptitim, also known as Israeli couscous, or pearl couscous, which is similar to regular couscous except it is larger like the Ashkenazi farfel or the Levantine maftoul (though ptitim does not contain bulgur unlike maftoul). Ptitim is a staple food and is very popular, especially with children, and is commonly served with butter or cooked with vegetables or chicken broth. However, it is prepared more similarly to pasta and is only boiled for a few minutes, and it is not steamed and fluffed like North African couscous. There are other shapes of ptitim, including a shape which resembled rice, which is also known as Ben Gurion’s rice, which was created in the 1950's after Israel's independence, as there was rationing and food shortages and rice was unavailable in the country.
In addition to ptitim, there are many varieties of couscous that can be found throughout Israel. Among Israelis of Sephardic origin (whose families moved to Israel from North African countries), couscous is a very common food and is served at almost every meal, especially on holidays, special occasions and celebrations, as well as on Shabbat (Jewish sabbath), for their Friday night dinners. Many people make their own couscous by hand, but it is a very labor intensive process. It is also common to buy instant couscous, and there are a large variety of brands and varieties for sale in Israel.
Different communities have different styles and sizes of couscous, similar to the differences in size and style between the couscous of the different cuisines of the Maghreb. Moroccan Jewish couscous is larger, and is frequently prepared with aromatic spices and served with meat. Algerian Jewish couscous is smaller. The smallest is Tunisian Jewish couscous, which is not much larger than grains of coarse sand. Tunisian Jewish couscous is often served with harissa or shkug, or cooked with vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, or potatoes and served with chamin, a North African Jewish beef stew similar to cholent, that is often served for Shabbat. Couscous is also be prepared with cinnamon sticks, orange and other citrus peel, and aromatic spices for special occasions and celebrations. It is not common to find sweet couscous or dessert couscous in Israel, as in Egypt and other countries.
In Egypt, couscous is eaten more as a dessert. It is prepared with butter, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and nuts and topped with cream.
In the Palestinian community, North African style couscous is not consumed. The Palestinians instead prepare a dish called maftoul, which is also consumed in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan and is called mograhbieh. Maftoul can be considered to be a special type of couscous but made from different ingredients and a different shape. It is significantly larger than North African couscous, and is similar in size to Israeli couscous, but has a different preparation. Maffoul is similarly steamed as North African couscous and often served on special occasions in a chicken broth with garbanzo beans and tender pieces of chicken taken off the bone. Maftoul is an Arabic word derived from the root "fa-ta-la", which means to roll or to twist, which is exactly describing the method used to make maftoul by hand rolling bulgur with wheat flour.< Couscous may be used to make a breakfast tabbouleh salad. Though usually cooked it water, it can also be cooking in another liquid, like apple juice, and served with dried fruit and honey.
In the Levant (excluding Israel and the Palestinian territories) they consume a large type of couscous with bulgur at the center, similar to the Palestinian maftoul called mograhbieh, which is commonly served in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as part of a stew or cooked in chicken broth with cinnamon, caraway and chickpeas.
Couscous is also consumed in France, where it is considered a traditional dish, and has also become common in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Indeed, many polls have indicated that it is often a favorite dish. In France, Spain and Italy, the word "couscous" (cuscús in Catalan, Spanish and Italian; cuscuz in Portuguese) usually refers to couscous together with the stew. Packaged sets containing a box of quick-preparation couscous and a can of vegetables and, generally, meat are sold in French, Spanish and Italian grocery stores and supermarkets. In France, it is generally served with harissa sauce, a style inherited from the Tunisian cuisine. Indeed, couscous was voted as the third-favourite dish of French people in 2011 in a study by TNS Sofres for magazine Vie Pratique Gourmand, and the first in the east of France.
Couscous is distinct from pasta, even pasta such as orzo and risoni of similar size, in that it is made from crushed durum wheat semolina, while pasta is made from ground wheat. Couscous and pasta have similar nutritional value, although pasta is usually more refined. Pasta is cooked by boiling and couscous is steamed. Burghul or bulgur is a kind of parboiled dried cracked wheat of similar size to couscous, cooked by adding boiling water and leaving for a few minutes to soften.
- Attiéké is a variety of couscous that is a staple food in Côte d'Ivoire and is also known to surrounding regions of West Africa, made from grated cassava.
- Berkoukes are pasta bullets made by the same process but are larger than the grains of couscous.
- In Brazilian cuisine, cuscuz marroquino is a version, usually eaten cold, of couscous. Brazilian cuscuz is usually made out of cornmeal rather than semolina wheat. Another festive moulded couscous dish containing chicken, vegetables, spices, steamed in a mould and decorated with orange slices is called cuscuz de galinha.
- Israeli couscous is a modification of Palestinian or Jordanian maftoul, the granules of which are toasted without coating.
- Kouskousaki (Κουσκουσάκι in Greek or kuskus in Turkish), a pasta from Greece and Turkey, that is boiled and served with cheese and walnuts.
- In Lebanese cuisine, Jordanian cuisine and Palestinian cuisine, a similar but larger product is known as maftoul or moghrabieh.
- Upma, eaten in South India, Western India, and Sri Lanka is a thick porridge made with dry roasted semolina. It also uses vegetables such as peas, carrots, etc.
- Cuscuz (Portuguese pronunciation: [kusˈkus]), a popular recipe usually associated with Northeastern Brazil and its diaspora, a steamed cake of corn meal served alone or with sugar and milk, varied meats, cheese and eggs or other ingredients.
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