Thursday, November 3, 2011

The mysterious origins of couscous

Continuing my fascination with getting to the essence of everything, last night the lady and I finally made couscous. It had been something of a mystery to me, so it was gratifying to be able to catalogue it finally (the image is from here). For the unfamiliar, couscous is based on semolina, which is (from Wikipedia) the “coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat used in making pasta, and also used for breakfast cereals and puddings.” This site says that, using cast-iron rollers to process the durum wheat, “the bran, germ and endosperm are separated and the endosperm breaks into coarse grains,” the latter of which is semolina. (Despite the fact that bran and germ are typically removed, we were able to buy whole grain couscous, so that step doesn’t appear absolutely necessary). This semolina is also often used to provide an unusual and appealing crisp texture to cookies, desserts, and breads (often helping the crust). Apparently, if one similarly grinds a soft wheat you can get either farina (which is the basis of Cream of Wheat) or porridge. The couscous is finally made by mixing roughly 2 parts semolina with 1 part durum flour. The dish apparently comes from North Africa but today is also popular in places such as Brazil, Latin America, and Europe.

That’s a big paragraph on couscous. Sorry. So, on to the recipe. We found this again from And it’s called crab couscous salad. Don’t worry though if crab freaks you out, cause it is still pretty enticing without it. The recipe:


  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 ounces couscous
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 pounds imitation crabmeat, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped peeled mango
  • 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions


  1. In a saucepan, bring the broth and butter to a boil. Stir in the couscous. Remove from the heat; cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; cool to room temperature. Fluff with a fork.
  2. For dressing, in a small bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice and cumin. Add the crab, mangoes, tomatoes and onions to couscous. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat.

You may think the mango goes weird with the onions, but you’d be wrong. It’s totally fine somehow and very unique. One of the best things about couscous (as it's sold in the US) is that it cooks in literally 5 minutes, so this meal was super easy to make. Now, the local Whole Foods didn’t have fresh crab (cause we’re in Utah!), but they did have a 16oz can of the stuff for $14.99 which turned out to be quite tasty. I think part of my pleasure came from simply not having to crack all those damn crab legs. I may have effectively doubled my lifetime crab intake last night because of it. But again, the meal is fine without it too.

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