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~Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins~

IMG_9157My pantry always has a container of couscous in it.  Funny thing is, I went from not knowing what the heck it was, to serving it a lot, in a very short period of time.  Living in a large college town is a wonderful thing -- all the specialized markets and eateries reflect its diversity.  Back in the 1980's I walked into a newly-opened Middle Eastern market and walked out with a couscousiere and two boxes of couscous.  That same day, I fell in love with couscous literally, "instantly".

6a0120a8551282970b014e891c5978970dCouscous is often referred to as Moroccan, but this is incorrect.  It is equally a dish of Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, which all claim to be the home of couscous. Couscous, resemblant of and often confused with grain, is actually tiny coarsely-ground semolina pasta. Making and cooking couscous in the traditional manner is a time consuming process. It requires time and patience, 2-3 rounds (2-3 hours) in a special steamer to achieve this. The steamer, called a couscousiere, is similar to a colander placed over a large pot. Simply put, while a thick, hearty stew slow simmers in the large lower pot, the couscous steams on the top.  Perfectly-cooked to-the-tooth (al dente) couscous is light, fluffy and loose-grained, not sticky, gummy or gritty.    

Unless couscous is being served with warm milk as a porridge for breakfast, cold in a salad, or, incorporated into a dessert, it is served underneath the above mentioned stew which contains a meat or poultry, plenty of vegetables, toasted almonds, dates, currants and/or raisins, along with an array of fragrant spices.  Moroccans often add saffron, Algerians like to add tomatoes, and Tunisians spice theirs up with the fiery hot-pepper-based harissa sauc", which is sold in in Middle Eastern markets.  The steamed couscous is heaped onto a common platter with the stew ladled on top of it.  Diners typically use pieces of flatbread to scoop it from the common platter.

IMG_9128Cooking traditional couscous is NOT what I am focusing on here today. For the most part, the couscous sold in our Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed, then dried, and is referred to as instant couscous, and there is no shame in this kind of easy -- especially when it is so versatile and down right delicious.  Unlike its counterpart, it cooks very quickly, in about five short minutes, so be certain to check to make sure this is the product you are purchasing. Just like its counterpart, when properly-cooked instant couscous is very light, fluffy and loose-grained.  

Meet my basic, five-minute recipe for instant couscous: 

IMG_912110  ounces instant couscous (about 2 3/4 cups)

2  cups water

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  tablespoon honey

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1  cup golden raisins

IMG_9122 IMG_9122 IMG_9122~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan bring the water, butter, honey, cinnamon, salt and  raisins to a full boil over high heat.

IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9151~Step 2.  Gradually add the couscous to the boiling mixture.  Using a large spoon, give the couscous a brief, thorough stir.  Turn heat off. Cover saucepan and allow to sit 5-6 minutes. Uncover.  Using a fork, gently "fluff"  couscous -- gently rake through it to separate the "grains" and incorporate air, which imparts volume.

Try it served w/fried or roasted chicken drizzled w/honey:  

IMG_9164Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b01538f29344b970bCook's Note: Instant couscous is the cousin to the larger-sized Israeli couscous (pictured here), which is sometimes referred to as pasta pearls.  It is often toasted in a skillet with a bit of EVOO and/or butter to bring up a lovely nutty flavor when cooked.  Israeli couscous is similar in size to the pasta shape called acini di pepe.  While cooked couscous and acini di pepe can be used interchangeably in a lot of applications, do not confuse the two when it comes time to cook them.

Here's why:  While couscous is considered a pasta, pasta is not considered couscous and cannot be cooked like couscous.  Unlike how pasta is prepared (a mixture of semolina and water), couscous is not kneaded, which means the gluten is not released.  So, while pasta requires a lot of boiling water for it to tumble in while cooking and absorbing moisture, couscous does not. Cooking acini de pepe in the same manner as couscous would result in a starchy, sticky product.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


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