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  142. Vanilla
  143. Vicia faba
  144. Walnut
  145. Watercress
  146. Watermelon
  147. Wheat
  148. Wild rice
  149. Zucchini


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Couscous with vegetables and chickpeas
Couscous with vegetables and chickpeas

Couscous (IPA /kʊskʊs/ - Berber Seksu - Arabic: كسكس [1]) is a food of the Maghreb of Berber origin. It consists of grains made from semolina that are about 1 mm or 1/16th inch in diameter (after cooking).

The dish is the primary staple food throughout the Maghreb; in much of Algeria, eastern Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya it is simply known as ta`aam طعام, "food". It is popular in the Maghreb, the West African Sahel, in France, in western Sicily's Trapani province, and parts of the Middle East. It is also very popular among Jews of North African descent.


This dish, with a name derived from Maghreb Arabic kuskusu, which is from Tamazight seksu[2] (meaning well rolled, well formed, rounded) [3]. The other variant, keskesu is mainly used by the Touareg.[4]


Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the hard wheat Triticum durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive millstone. The name is also used for prepared dishes made from other grains, such as barley, millet, sorghum, rice, or maize. Couscous is traditionally served under a meat or vegetable stew.

In the United States couscous is known as a type of pasta, probably reflecting the influence of Sicilian immigrants. However in most other countries it is treated more like a grain in its own right. It is particularly valued for its rapid preparation time.

In French-speaking countries in sub-Saharan Africa, fufu is often called cous-cous.


One of the first written references is from an anonymous 13th century Hispano-Muslim cookery book, "Kitāb al-tabǐkh fǐ al-Maghrib wa'l-Andalus" : The book of cooking from the Maghreb and Al Andalus, with a recipe for couscous that was 'known all over the world'. From the name, it appears that this dish was not Arabic, but Berber. Couscous was known to the Nasrid royalty in Granada as well. And in the 13th century a Syrian historian from Aleppo includes four references for couscous. These early mentions show that couscous spread rapidly, but that in the main, couscous was common from Tripolitania to the west, while from Cyrenaica to the east the main cuisine was Egyptian, with couscous as an occasional dish. Today, in Egypt and the Middle East, couscous is known, but in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, couscous is a staple.

One of the earliest references to couscous in Northern Europe is in Brittany, in a letter dated Jan. 12 1699. But it made a much earlier appearance in Provence, where the traveler Jean Jacques Bouchard writes of eating it in Toulon in 1630.

African origins

Evidence is mounting that the process of couscous cookery, especially the steaming of the grain over broth in a special pot, might have originated before the tenth century in the area of West Africa now comprising Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. Ibn Batuta journeyed to Mali in 1352, and in what is now Mauritania he had a millet couscous. He also noted rice couscous in the area of Mali in 1350. Also, for centuries, among the nomadic Berbers, black African women were employed as couscous cooks, another possible indication of the sub-Saharan origin of the dish. [citation needed]


The couscous grains are made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat) or, in some regions, from coarsely ground barley or millet. The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry semolina to keep the pellets separate, and then sieved. The pellets which are too small to be finished grains of couscous fall through the sieve to be again sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny grains of couscous.

This process is very labour intensive. Traditionally, groups of women would come together and make a large batch of couscous grains over several days. These would then be dried in the sun and used for several months. In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and is sold in markets around the world.

Berkoukes are pasta bullets made by the same process, but are larger than the grains of couscous.


Couscous should be steamed two to three times. When properly cooked the texture is light and fluffy, it should not be gummy or gritty. The couscous available to buy in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried, the package directions usually instruct to add a little boiling water to it to make it ready for consumption. This method is quick and easy to prepare by placing the couscous in a bowl and pouring the boiling water or stock over the couscous, then covering the bowl tightly. The couscous swells and within a few minutes is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than dried pasta or grains such as rice.

The traditional North African method is to use a steamer called a kiska:s in Tunisian Arabic or couscoussière in French. The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked in 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 that 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 archeological evidence of early use of couscous, mainly because the original couscoussière was probably made from organic material which would not survive.

In Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, turnips, etc.) cooked in a spicy or mild broth, and some meat (generally, chicken, lamb or mutton); in Morocco, couscous can also be topped with fish in a sweet sauce with raisins and caramelized onions; in some parts of Libya fish and squid are also used. The stew in Tunisia is red with a tomato and chili base, whereas in Morocco it is generally yellow.

In Morocco it is also served, sometimes at the end of a meal or just by itself, as a delicacy called "Seffa". The couscous is usually steamed several times until it is very fluffy and pale in color. It is then sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Traditionally, this dessert will be served with milk perfumed with orange blossom water, or it can be served plain with buttermilk in a bowl as a cold light soup for supper.

The dish is now popular in former colonial power France, where the word "couscous" 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 grocery stores and supermarkets. There are also recipes from Brazil that use boiled couscous molded into timbale with other ingredients.

Israeli couscous

Israeli couscous (in Hebrew קוסקוס), also known as maftoul or pearl couscous, is a larger version of couscous and used in slightly different ways. In Western cooking it is often used as a bed for salmon or chicken dishes, or put into salads. Compare with Middle Eastern Tabouli or egg barley.

Israeli couscous is a commercial version of North African Berkukes and Levantine Maghrebiyya (from the Maghreb) brought by Jewish immigrants from various parts of the Middle East and North Africa who went to Israel in the early 50s. Wheat was relatively abundant at the time, but rice was scarce. Couscous was meant to provide a rice substitute for those immigrants from eastern Arab countries and from Persia, where rice was the staple grain.

See also

Wikibooks Cookbook has an article on
  • Moroccan cuisine

External links

  • Couscous DARI - History and origin of Couscous - Couscous recipes
  • Algerian recipes plus photos Author is a chef instructor at The California School of Culinary Arts, Le Cordon Bleu. He was born in Lyon, France to Algerian parents.
  • Couscous - The Measure of the Maghrib
  • Couscous: Long-Term Maghreb Staple Still Going Strong
  • Couscous
  • History of Couscous
  • "The March of Couscous" article written by Farid Zadi. Traces how couscous was taken to different countries from its origins in North Africa.
  • Israeli couscous: da truth
  • Recipe for couscous

References and notes

  1. ^ called maftoul in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories
  2. ^ DALLET Jean.-Marie : Dictionnaire kabyle-française, Paris, SELAF, 1982. p. 709.
  3. ^ CHAKER, Salem : Couscous : sur l’étymologie du mot
  4. ^ FOUCAULD Charles de : Dictionnaire touareg-français, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1950-52, p. 919
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