Golden Couscous and
Arts of the Arab World

March 6, 2009

As I read, travel, attend events and talk to people, I find there is no shortage of inspiration for flavorful recipes. If you pay attention, you’ll see food intertwined with almost every aspect of life. While I had other ideas for a recipe and topic to cover this week, I went to two performances Wednesday night at The Kennedy Center that sent me on a detour. The rhythms of B’net Houariyat of Morocco and the contemporary dance of Karima Mansour of Egypt guided me in an entirely different direction. Before I go any further, you’ve got to take a look at B’net Houariyat’s soul-stirring performance online!

In addition to food and cooking, one of my passions is North African and Middle Eastern dance. When I’m not cooking, studying cookbooks or reading up on nutrition and food, I’m probably in a raqs sharqi (aka belly dance) or North African folkloric dance class. Actually, my love of dance, yoga and healing movement go hand in hand with my exploration of food and nutrition. They are all key elements of well-being.

With the same zeal and thirst for knowledge that I display in growing as a cook and real food advocate, I’m constantly trying to learn and discover as much as I can about the multi-faceted world of North African dance and music. So when I discovered that The Kennedy Center in D.C. was holding a three week festival, Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, I immediately began pouring over the schedule featuring performances from 22 Arab countries. After leaving B’net Houariyat’s and Karima Mansour’s performances, I wanted to share the thrill and joy I got from their shows. I went home in the mood for Moroccan mint tea and couscous – ready to share a sample of a varied and flavorful cuisine and culture.

Couscous, finely rolled granules of semolina wheat, is prepared in numerous ways all over North Africa and the Middle East. Often served under stewed meats or vegetables (Moroccan tagines for example), couscous makes a great side dish as well. I’ve made couscous as a baked crust over salmon and as a side dish mildly flavored with the taste of diced sweet mango as Marcus Samuelsson does in The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa.

My recipe below includes flavors common to North African and Middle Eastern cooking – lemon, pine nuts, raisins, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil. Traditionally, couscous is prepared using a couscoussier, which is made up of two pots – one with small holes in the bottom that holds the couscous and sits on top of the other, taller pot in which the stewed meat and vegetables cook. The steam from the simmering stew slowly cooks the couscous in the top pot. I have yet to try this method of cooking, but it is known for achieving the best and traditional fluffy textured couscous.

Most supermarkets in the U.S. carry quick-cooking couscous made by stirring the couscous into boiling water and allowing it to sit for five minutes. The texture isn’t as light and fluffy as steamed couscous, but it’s still delicious.

Enjoy! And while we’re on the topic of the flavors and sounds of Morocco, take a look at Travelista’s recent Moroccan travel adventures. Teri and Andrea’s video coverage of their time in the markets and kitchens of Marrakesh have me ready to go!

Golden Couscous (pronounced koos-koos)
Adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence

1-1/2 cup couscous (10 oz. quick-cook package)
2 cups water
3 – 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tomato – ripe, but firm – peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup golden raisins, roughly chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley, loosely packed (leaves only) and well chopped
Juice of one lemon (small to medium)
1 teaspoon salt or to taste

In a medium sauce pan, bring water (with a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil) to a boil. When the water just comes to a boil, stir in the couscous, cover and remove pot from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

In a small sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium. Sauté garlic, red pepper flakes and pine nuts for one minute. Add diced tomatoes and sauté for one minute more. Fluff the couscous and then add sauté mixture, chopped parsley, raisins, lemon juice and 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil and mix well with the couscous. Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon), and serve.

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Filed Under Grains, Rice & Pasta, International Flavors, Light & Tasty, Quick & Easy, Vegan, Vegetarian/Conversions | 2 Comments Print This Post


2 Responses to “Golden Couscous and
Arts of the Arab World”

  1. keisa on March 6th, 2009 9:40 am

    This looks so good i can’t wait to try this receipe! Thank you

  2. Trish on March 29th, 2009 3:59 am

    Hi Tesia,

    I’m doing the boot camp with you. Fun to get acquainted here on your blog. I’m a big fan of couscous (and you’ve showed it my favorite way, with golden raisins, herbs, lemon, etc.),and was interested to learn about the couscoussier. I’ve never heard of that before!

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