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Making Couscous

Adam Balic

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I decided to make couscous this weekend for a few friends. Normally this would involve five minutes work and a package of ‘instant’ couscous, as one of my friends would put it “This is the entire point of couscous, it’s better then pasta or rice because it involves no effort”. My friend is not a fan of ‘fancy’ cooking. I however, was curious to know how difficult it was to make couscous from scratch.

So armed with instructions from Paula Wolfert’s “Mediterranean Grains and Greens” I set about obtaining the ingredients. No problem here, there are only two ingredients (or three if you count water) fine and coarse semolina. In the local Halal grocer I asked for the semolina, explaining that I was going to make couscous. Well this caused some confusion for the grocer, then great mirth. “Oh, you don’t make it, you use this instant couscous” and after explaining that I actually wanted to make it from scratch, “But, the instant is very good?”. Finally, after explaining that it wasn’t a matter the instant not being good, it to satisfying my curiosity. This the grocer could understand - I was clearly insane.

Back in my kitchen, with the sound of a hysterically laughing Halal grocer echoing in my mind I questioned the wisdom of ‘Couscous venture 2003’, after all the only person I know to have made it from scratch, also mentioned a passing penchant for wearing pantaloons and listed horse-hair sieves as a vital part of kitchen equipment, I could see that this could be troublesome. Never the less, safe in the knowledge that my wife was at the gym for the next few hours and that any semolina disaster could be tidied/concealed before she can home I proceeded.

Well, I followed the instructions. And do you know what? It was easy. Dead easy. Couscous makes it self. It transforms from flour to couscous before your eyes in such a way as to seem magical. I know the theory of how it works: the fine semolina flours binds to the individual grains of coarse flour, building up a tiny semolina pellet, as layers of semolina flour are added to the original semolina speck, in they same manner in which hailstones form. I know all this, but I still experienced a superstitious thrill from watching it occur. The first person to watch bread dough rise due to the action of yeast or taste fruit juice that had been tuned into wine by the same yeast must have experienced something similar. Roughly translated, this would be “Cool!”, possibly the response would have been even more enthusiastic in the latter case.

Make couscous, it is easy and it is fun. It also tastes very good. Maybe, this is because of the pleasure derived from making it, but irrespective of this it tastes very good indeed.

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I'm impressed. The only time I have ever seen it done is on TV cookery programs, normally accompanied by voiceovers saying that it takes yars of skill and about 4 hours to do - which is why evryone uses the instant stuff!

Whats next on your 'From Scratch' agenda then? Something involving rendering your own lard, or getting your own suet could be good!

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Physically making the coucous takes less then twenty minutes. Infact it is more like five. The 'raw' couscous has to be steamed ~ 3 X 15 minutes. This involves putting the couscous into a steamer/kiskis/couscousière, steaming for 15 minutes, breaking up any lumps (very few lumps in my case) and adding a little water, then repeating the process. And it can be done in advance. Easy peasy.

Suet is easy too. Take cold kidney fat and grate. Lard = put fat into pot of water, render out fat, remove solids, allow to set.

Next I will make puff pastry I think. I am ashamed to say that I have never made this.

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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