Just What Is Couscous? By Nancy Finch, Food Columnist
The Spicy Portabella Couscous
While we were dining on couscous, someone asked, "What is couscous, anyway?"
No one was sure, despite the fact that this staple of Middle Eastern and particularly
Moroccan cuisines was well-known to all in our group. But "what" couscous is,
seemed to be uncertain.
Couscous is a grain-shaped pasta made from durum wheat semolina. So, class, what is
semolina? According to one of my favorite authorities, Irish food writer, Theodora
Fitzgibbon, semolina is "a product of wheat-flour milling" derived particularly
from hard or durum wheat. After the bran or outer skin of the wheat berry is removed, the
largest particles of the endosperm may be separated and detached. These are known as the
Often dishes made from this pasta are called couscous, but the grain-shaped pasta,
itself, is called by that name as well. It is possible to make your own couscous.
The Near East brand of couscous that comes with flavoring packets is available widely.
However, the plain packaged grain may be more difficult to find. It is worth the search.
Sahadi is one imported brand of couscous.
We tried a recipe using the Near East brand version and two others that would appeal
more to purists. The Curried Couscous Salad on the Sahadi box was my favorite of the three
When I invited guests to our couscous dinner, one wanted to know if we would eat with
our hands instead of implements. Sure enough, apparently, that is the Moroccan way. We
used forks. But ... feel free!
The Spicy Portabella Couscous is a good vegetarian entrée. You dont have to be
vegetarian to enjoy it, but for those of us who more and more frequently need meatless
recipes, this is a good one. Use the onions and raisins if possible.
Chicken and Couscous
1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken
breasts (about 3), cut into strips
1 T ground cumin
2 t chili powder
2 T olive oil
11/4 c water
1 pkg. (5.8-oz.) Near East Roasted
Garlic & Olive Oil Couscous mix
1 medium red apple, cored & sliced
1 medium-ripe pear, cored & sliced
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1/2 c chopped walnuts, optional
Directions: Toss chicken with cumin and chili powder in a
resealable plastic bag. In large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.
Add chicken, cook 5 to 6 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside, stirring
frequently. Remove chicken from skillet. In same skillet, add water, bring to boil. Add
couscous, contents of Spice Sack, apple, pear and parsley. Cover. Remove from heat. Let
stand 5 minutes. Stir in cooked chicken and top with walnuts. Makes 4 servings.
Curried Couscous Salad
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1/2 c black raisins
1/2 c golden raisins
1/2 c cooked chick-peas
3/4 t salt
3/4 t ground allspice
4 t curry powder
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 c lemon juice
1/2 c olive oil
2 c couscous, prepared as directed on pkg.
Directions: Mix the green onion, red pepper, black and golden
raisins, and chick-peas together. Wisk the spices with the lemon juice and the olive oil.
Fluff the cooled couscous with a fork. Toss couscous and green onion mixture. Add dressing
and mix well. Let sit 1 hour to blend flavors. Stores well. Serves 6-8.
Spicy Portabella Couscous
12 oz. (about 5 large) portabella mushrooms
1/2 c olive oil (or less, as needed)
1/4 t ground black pepper, divided
1/2 cup (one-half medium) sliced onion
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t cinnamon
11/2 c orange juice
1 c couscous, uncooked
Green onions, raisins, sliced almonds, optional
Directions: Wipe portabella mushrooms with damp paper towel.
Trim stems, if attached. Slice mushrooms. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil
over medium-high heat. Add portabellas, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and
turning occasionally until tender, about 7 minutes. Remove from skillet to a plate. Cover
to keep warm. Add additional olive oil and cook remaining mushrooms. Repeat process. Add
remaining olive oil, stir in onion, cumin and cinnamon. Cook and stir until tender. Add
orange juice. Cook at a brisk simmer until liquid reduces to 1 cup, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare couscous. In a medium saucepan bring 1 cup water to boil. Stir in
couscous, remaining salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Add
onions, raisins and almonds. Place mushrooms on top of couscous. Pass orange sauce
separately to drizzle over all. Serves 4.