Sing with me.
One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just isn’t the same…
Can you guess which of the four pictures below is not really couscous?
If you guessed the picture on the bottom left, you’re absolutely correct! What is called “Israeli couscous” in America isn’t called couscous in Israel. It’s called p’titim. The English on the package calls it “toasted pasta.” It’s basically orzo, but it comes in more shapes, only one of which, the couscous shape, is what Americans call “Israeli couscous.” My kids’ favorite shapes are animals and ABCs. Ironically, I don’t think they come in alef-bet shapes.
I have a love-hate relationship with couscous. On the one hand it’s real fast food. I make the instant kind that just needs boiling water poured over it, and by the time the table is set, it’s ready to eat. I do not spend hours rolling it by hand like the Morrocan grandmothers around here. When the kids want supper NOW, couscous is my go-to grain. It’s also my standard filler for salads that double as side dishes or meals, such as confetti couscous, tuna-couscous salad, and tabbouleh. (Come back soon for the recipes.) The latter I have made with Bulgar, but couscous is so much faster. I also add it to blended soups to add texture and make them into a filling meal. There is also a classic Tunisian soup served with couscous that I rarely make because my family doesn’t like chickpeas, zucchini, and pumpkin. When I need something to go with saucy chicken or meatballs on a Friday night, I prefer brown rice, but when I’m crunched for time, like these weeks when Shabbos starts right after breakfast, instant couscous is a great stand-in.
What drives me nuts about couscous is that when little kids eat it, it gets EVERYWHERE. The worst is when I accidentally buy the fine variety. There are four types of instant couscous: regular, coarse (more to chew, less to sweep), fine (That’s couscous? Oh, I thought those were bread crumbs!), and whole wheat (my favorite, featured in the photos, because it’s more nutritious). When the pre-Pesach chametz wind-down begins, couscous is the first thing to be banned from the dinner table. Not because I don’t want it on the table, but because I don’t want it under the table, under the bookshelves, under the couch…
Is couscous foolproof? Almost. I have met people who didn’t know how to make it.
To make perfect couscous that is fully cooked and not stuck together in clumps, just follow the package directions closely. It’s that easy!
–> Don’t skip on that spoonful of oil. Other than adding taste, it goes a long way in keeping the grains separate, not stuck into one big clump.
–> Adding salt and spices with the oil and mixing before adding the boiling water allows the flavor to be distributed evenly and absorb during the cooking process.
–>Make sure the water is boiling, not just hot. Unless you like crunchy couscous.
–> Did I mention that my Pyrex measuring cup broke? I made couscous just fine without it. Just make sure the water reaches to about a centimeter above the surface of the couscous in the bowl. Cover and let sit for five minutes.
–> Fluff with a fork when the couscous is still hot and fresh. It really does work better than a spoon.
What’s your favorite way to eat couscous? Comment below.