Twice as good

Healthy, versatile, fast and easy, the North African staple, couscous, has moved far beyond its humble origins and is starring in a number of new ways.

cous cous dish 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cous cous dish 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My ancestors did not come to Israel from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco where couscous is an age-old staple and the center of culinary life. However, as a new immigrant, I was lucky enough to latch on to a family with a Moroccan grandmother who celebrated the beginning of every month in the Hebrew calendar with homemade couscous served with a slowcooked stew of chicken and vegetables.
For many Jews from the various Diaspora communities of North Africa, a grandmother’s couscous is a point of pride.
This is undoubtedly due to the tremendous amount of work and expertise that goes into rolling and rerolling semolina into tiny rounded granules with the perfectly desired, allimportant, light and airy consistency that marks good couscous.
The preparation process can take up to three or four hours. Fortunately for those of us without Moroccan grandmothers, couscous has moved far beyond its humble North African Berber origins and is now available in markets around the world. In fact, the first couscous factory in Israel, Couscous Maison Ltd., was opened in 1968. Local women would prepare the couscous granules in the same meticulous fashion as a Moroccan grandmother would. The couscous would then be dried in the sun, packaged and sold.
The process is now mechanized but the result is the same – real couscous that can be bought in the store and prepared at home faster than either rice or pasta.
Chef Yoav Bar of Marabou restaurant in Ramat Gan gave us some recipes using Couscous Maison Ltd.’s regular and whole-wheat varieties. They are interchangeable in the following recipes.
The couscous tomato puree can go with anything and the fish stock can be replaced with water. The puree, which is reminiscent of risotto, shows the versatility of couscous.
Makes 4 servings ✔ 200 gr. couscous✔ 4 sea bream filets, 120 gr.✔ 3 tomatoes, peeled and cubed ✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil ✔ 50 gr. Parmesan cheese, or a local substitute ✔ basil leaves ✔ 21⁄2 cups fish stock or water ✔ salt and pepper
Prepare the couscous according to the instructions. Saute the tomatoes in olive oil; add fish sauce or hot water, couscous and olive oil; set aside.
Sear the fish in a hot pan with olive oil on the skin side first for 2 minutes, then flip and sear the other side for about 1 minute. Put the couscous puree on a serving plate, lay the fish on top and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and a few chopped basil leaves.
The couscous and black lentil combination is easy, healthy and surprisingly flavorful.
Makes 4 servings ✔ 200 gr. whole-wheat couscous ✔ 100 gr. cooked black lentils ✔ 100 gr. carrot confit cubed ✔ 100 gr. pumpkin confit cubed ✔ 100 gr. Jerusalem artichoke confit, cubed ✔ 100 gr. shallot confit ✔ 20 gr. garlic confit ✔ 1 bunch of fresh asparagus, thinly sliced ✔ 1 Tbsp olive oil ✔ 1 bunch thyme ✔ 1 cup vegetable stock ✔ salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 200º. Prepare the couscous according to instructions. Mix in the cooked lentils. Season the vegetables with 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Add a cup of vegetable stock and cover with greaseproof paper and aluminum foil. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Place the couscous and lentil combination on a plate and spread the vegetable confit on top.
This is a starter dish that only looks complicated. The carpaccio rolls look like sushi and their lightness with the couscous filling reminded me of the Japanese specialty.
Makes 4 servings
✔ 200 gr. whole-wheat couscous, prepared according to instructions
✔ 12 thin slices of raw sirloin (30 gr. each)
✔ 3 cucumbers, cut into small cubes
✔ 1 red onion, chopped
✔ small bunch mint leaves chopped
✔ small bunch parsley leaves chopped
✔ 1 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ cherry tomatoes
✔ freshly squeezed tomato juice
✔ salt and pepper
✔ 1 Tbsp. mustard aioli
Mix together cucumbers, red onion, mint and parsley with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the prepared whole-wheat couscous.
Place a small amount of the mixture on each slice of beef and roll. Put the aioli in the middle of a serving plate. Place the carpaccio rolls on top of the aioli.
Drizzle the tomato juice around the carpaccio rolls.
Garnish with halved cherry tomatoes.
In this dish the couscous is served as the side dish to a slow cooked stew of meat and vegetables. The fluffiness of the couscous is ideal as a counterpart to the richness of the stew.
Makes 4 servings
✔ 200 gr. couscous
✔ 200 gr. veal, cut into cubes
✔ 100 gr. carrot, cut into cubes
✔ 100 gr. celery, cut into cubes
✔ 2 shallots
✔ 1 bunch asparagus, chopped
✔ 1 cup beef stock
✔ 1 Tbsp. date syrup
✔ salt and pepper
Simmer the veal together with the root vegetables and shallots in the beef stock for 2.5 hours. Add the asparagus and the date syrup and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Prepare the couscous according to the above instructions. Put the couscous in a deep dish and place the stew on top.
This recipe was a revelation for me. I had no idea that couscous could be made with butter and milk instead of water and oil to turn it into a sweet dessert food. If you need a break from heavy desserts, the light airiness of the couscous is a welcome alternative.
Makes 4 servings
✔ 200 gr. couscous
✔ 2.5 cups hot milk
✔ 40 gr. brown sugar
✔ 1 pod vanilla
✔ 200 ml coconut milk
✔ 2 gr. cornflour (1⁄2 tsp.)
✔ 500 gr. seasonal fruit (plums, pears, peaches, etc.) cubed
Boil the milk. Cut open vanilla pod and scrape the inside into the milk. Add the couscous. Cover in plastic wrap and soak for about 5 minutes until the couscous is ready. In a pan, simmer the coconut milk, cornflour and brown sugar over low heat.
Stir the cornflour mix into the couscous and chill. place the couscous on a serving plate, top with fruit and with a scoop of sorbet on the side.
Couscous Maison Ltd. Marabou Restaurant, Rehov Abba Hillel 14, Ramat Gan.