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Couscous is a traditional Berber dish of semolina (granules of durum wheat) which is cooked by steaming. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Libya and to a lesser extent in the Middle East and Sicily.
Couscous was voted as the third-favourite dish of French people in 2011 in a study by TNS Sofres for magazine Vie Pratique Gourmand, and the first in the east of France.
The original name is derived from the Berber seksu or kesksu, meaning "well rolled", "well formed", or "rounded".
Numerous different names and pronunciations for couscous exist around the world. Couscous is in the United Kingdom and only the latter in the United States. It is in Arabic pronounced kuskusi, while it is also known as seksu or kesksu in Morocco; ṭa`ām (literally meaning "food") in Algeria; kosksi or kuseksi in Tunisia, Libya; kuskusi in Egypt; and keskes in Tuareg.
One of the first written references is from an anonymous 13th-century North African cookbook, Kitāb al-tabǐkh fǐ al-Maghrib wa'l-Andalus "The cookbook of the Maghreb and Al-Andalus", with a recipe for couscous that was 'known all over the world'. To this day, couscous is known as 'the North Africa national dish'. 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 generally that 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 Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya couscous is a staple. It is the national dish of the Maghreb countries. Couscous reached Turkey from Syria to in the 16th century and is eaten in most of the Turkish southern provinces.
Couscous is a traditional meal of the cuisine from Trapani. In Rome Bartolomeo Scappi's culinary guide of 1570 describes a Moorish dish, succussu; in Tuscany.
One of the earliest references to couscous in France is in Brittany, in a letter dated January 12, 1699. But it made an earlier appearance in Provence, where the traveler Jean-Jacques Bouchard wrote of eating it in Toulon in 1630. Couscous was originally made from millet. Historians have different opinions as to when wheat began to replace the use of millet. The conversion seems to have occurred sometime in the 20th century, although many regions continue to use the traditional millet. Couscous seems to have a North African origin. Archaeological evidence dating back to the 10th century, consisting of kitchen utensils needed to prepare this dish, has been found in this part of the world.
In some regions couscous is made from Farina or coarsely ground barley or pearl millet. In Brazil, the traditional couscous is made from cornmeal.
The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate, and then sieved. Any pellets which are too small to be finished granules of couscous and fall through the sieve are again rolled and sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny granules of couscous. This process is labour-intensive. In the traditional method of preparing couscous, groups of women came together to make large batches over several days, which were then dried in the sun and used for several months. Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the millstone. In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and the product is sold in markets around the world.
In the Sahelian countries of West Africa, such as Mali and Senegal, pearl millet is pounded or milled to the size and consistency necessary for the couscous.
Properly cooked couscous is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. Traditionally, North Africans use a food steamer (called aTaseksut in Berber, a kiskas in Arabic or a couscoussier in French). The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked as 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 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 archaeological evidence of early diets including couscous, possibly because the original couscoussier was probably made from organic materials which could not survive extended exposure to the elements.
The couscous that is sold in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried; the package directions usually instruct to add 1.5 measures of boiling water or stock and butter to each measure of couscous and to cover tightly for 5 minutes. The couscous swells and within a few minutes it is ready to fluff with a fork and serve. Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than regular couscous, most dried pasta, or dried grains such as rice.
In Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Libya, couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.) cooked in a spicy or mild broth or stew, and some meat (generally, chicken, lamb or mutton).
In Algeria and 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 colour. It is then sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Traditionally, this dessert is served with milk perfumed with orange flower water, or it can be served plain with buttermilk in a bowl as a cold light soup for supper.
In Tunisia, it is made mostly spicy with harissa sauce and served with almost everything, including lamb, fish, seafood, beef and sometimes in southern regions camel. Fish couscous is a Tunisian specialty and can also be made with octopus or other seafood in hot, red, spicy sauce. Couscous in Tunisia is served on every occasion; it is also served in some regions (mostly during Ramadan), sweetened as a dessert called masfouf.
In Libya, it is mostly served with meat, specifically mostly lamb, but also camel, and very rarely beef, in Tripoli and the western parts of Libya, but not during official ceremonies or weddings. Another way to eat couscous is as a dessert; it is prepared with dates, sesame, and pure honey, and locally referred to as "maghrood".
Israelis typically serve it on occasions and holidays. It was brought by Maghrebi migrants from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya to Israel.
In Egypt, couscous is eaten more as a dessert. It is prepared with butter, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and nuts and topped with cream.
Couscous is also very popular in France, where it is now considered a traditional dish, and has also become popular in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Indeed, many polls have indicated that it is often a favourite dish. Study conducted on January 11 and 12, 2006, for the magazine Notre Temps based on face-to-face interviews with a sample of 1,000 people representative of the adult French population, stratified by age, sex, profession of the head of household, region and type of municipality. Couscous is served in many Maghrebi restaurants all over the world. In France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, the word "couscous" (cuscús in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian) 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, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese grocery stores and supermarkets. In France, it is generally served with harissa sauce, a style inherited from the Tunisian cuisine.
In North America, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, couscous is available most commonly either plain or pre-flavoured in quick-preparation boxes. In the United States, it is widely available, normally found in the ethnic or health-food section of larger grocery stores.
There are related recipes in Latin America, where a corn meal mix is boiled and moulded into a timbale with other ingredients. Among them, cuscuz (Portuguese pronunciation: [kusˈkus]), a popular recipe usually associated with Northeastern Brazil and its diaspora, a steamed cake of corn meal served with sugar and milk, varied meats, cheese and eggs or other ingredients.
Maftoul is considered as a special type of couscous but made from different ingredients and a different shape. It is larger than North African couscous. Maftoul is an Arabic word derived from the root “fa-ta-la”, which means to roll or to twist, which is exactly describing the method used to make maftoul by hand rolling bulgur with wheat flour.
In Israel there is a dish similar to maftoul (by look, not taste) called Ptitim, which has many variations and could appear as a mini triangles, or looking like a rice (that is the original type and it is sometimes called (Ben Gurion rice)) and many other variations. The most famous variation of ptitim looks like couscous and as Americans started to call it "Israeli couscous" then Osem company started to product it outside Israel under this name. Ptitim is not the same as Mograbia (a.k.a. maftoul, pearl couscous etc.), though the two can be used similarly. Mograbia is a coated couscous; Ptitim is an extruded paste. The word "maftoul" is sometimes incorrectly used in America to refer to Israeli couscous.
Couscous has 3.6 g of protein for every 100 grams. Furthermore, couscous contains a 1% fat-to-calorie ratio.
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