Dining In

Just What Is Couscous?
By Nancy Finch, Food Columnist

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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 semolina.

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 tests.

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 don’t 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


bullet1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken
bulletbreasts (about 3), cut into strips
bullet1 T ground cumin
bullet2 t chili powder
bullet2 T olive oil
bullet11/4 c water
bullet1 pkg. (5.8-oz.) Near East Roasted
bulletGarlic & Olive Oil Couscous mix
bullet1 medium red apple, cored & sliced
bullet1 medium-ripe pear, cored & sliced
bullet2 T chopped fresh parsley
bullet1/2 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


bullet1 bunch green onions, sliced
bullet1 medium red pepper, chopped
bullet1/2 c black raisins
bullet1/2 c golden raisins
bullet1/2 c cooked chick-peas
bullet3/4 t salt
bullet3/4 t ground allspice
bullet4 t curry powder
bulletBlack pepper, to taste
bullet1/4 c lemon juice
bullet1/2 c olive oil
bullet2 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


bullet12 oz. (about 5 large) portabella mushrooms
bullet1/2 c olive oil (or less, as needed)
bullet1/4 t ground black pepper, divided
bullet1/2 cup (one-half medium) sliced onion
bullet1 t ground cumin
bullet1/2 t cinnamon
bullet11/2 c orange juice
bullet1 c couscous, uncooked
bulletGreen 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.


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