Saturday, 23 February 2013

Proper couscous

On my Aga
This is a step by step guide of the best way to make couscous. It's a bit fiddly, and requires that you eschew such blasphemies as quick-cook couscous. But with this method each grain will lift and separate, just like a Playtex bra. No clumps, no sogginess.
So, this weekend, rather than the usual carbs, have a go at making couscous from Northern Africa. I've combined it here with spices, sweet and sour flavours and a blood orange salad. The idea is to reproduce that Middle Eastern vibe of fruity acidic tastes into a savoury dish. If you don't have dates, use apricots or sultanas. If you can't find shelled pistachios, use almonds. You can riff on my recipe.
Enjoy with a heavy Middle Eastern wine such as Sidi Brahim or something from the Lebanon

Serves 2 or 3

A cup of warm water with 1-2 tablespoons of sea salt
250g wholewheat couscous
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon whole coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4/5 dates, torn into pieces or
4/5 dried apricots, torn into pieces
50g butter
20g shelled nibbed pistachios, a startling green
20g of barberries 
10g bitter orange peel (optional)
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

  • Spread the couscous onto a flat tray.
  • Add sea salt to a cup of warm water, let it melt. 
  • Then, using your fingers, sprinkle the couscous with the water. 
  • Rub it through your fingers, not letting it clump. 
  • Do this twice more, every 15 minutes. 
  • You will see that the grains have plumped up nicely without sticking together or getting water logged. 
You will need either a couscousière (which I don't have) or a fine mesh sieve/colander, plus a saucepan with a tight fitting lid and a clean tea towel. 
  • Put almost boiling water into a saucepan, high enough that it doesn't steam away, but not touching the bottom of the sieve/colander. 
  • Add the spices to this boiling water.
  • Put your plumped up couscous into the sieve/colander. 
  • Add the dates, if using. 
  • Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and fit it onto the saucepan.
  • Put it on the stove top on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes to steam the couscous. 
  • Do check the water level so that it doesn't run dry. 
Gather together the rest of the ingredients and fry them lightly in the butter.
When the couscous is cooked, add the buttery fruit and nuts on top. 
Blood Orange salad
2 blood oranges, thinly sliced
Olive oil
Pepperoncino flakes or any dried chilli flakes


  1. This would probably go well with the goat meat I saw today on our local Farmers' Market. Sorry to say that I'm one of the Philistines and use quick-cook couscous! But we do have a proper tagine, so maybe I can be excused??

  2. Tagine good, quick cook couscous, bad.
    It doesn't retain it's bite. But even with that, give my method a go? You probably don't even need to do the steaming bit.

  3. I am unable to comment because of my drooling. Will definitely give 'slow' couscous a go and am off to buy some blood oranges now. Thanks for sharing.


  4. looking lovely dish.hope taste as well.I try it today.
    Couscous recipes

  5. In the couscous preparation, is it 3x one cup of water at 15 min intervals or one-third of a cup each time?


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