Cookin’ Couscous

By Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers

Couscous has been popular among many different cultures, one of the first written recipes for couscous is found in a 13th century Hispano-Muslim cookbook, which references the recipe as "known all over the world.” Many people think of couscous as Middle Eastern or Mediterranean in origin, but it is really from Western Africa where details of cooking and making couscous date back to the 10th century. Today, couscous remains a staple in Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian cuisine.

Couscous is a relative newcomer to the American family table. The increasing interest in vegetarian and ethnic cuisines explains much of the reason for seeing more couscous on menus and dinner tables. Couscous is pasta that is made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat). It is considered an unrefined carbohydrate which is a great source of energy for the body.

Along with being a good source of energy, couscous is also low in fat, a good source of fiber and contains some protein. Couscous has a subtle taste that is slightly nutty. It is a great substitute for rice with many meals, and is a nice accompaniment to many different cuisines.

Age to introduce: 10-12 months (cooked)

Toddler Treat: Sand Castles

Just the name of this side dish is cool enough for a little kid to give it a try, and the great taste will keep ’em digging in.

Ingredients:

1 box (5-6 oz) of couscous
1 (14 oz.) can vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ cup frozen peas & carrots combo
1 small ramekin or small glass cup (this is the mold for your castle)

Directions:

Cook peas and carrots according to the package directions. Prepare couscous according the package directions, but substitute the same amount of broth for the amount of water called for on the package. You can add water to the broth to make up any difference in the amount of liquid called for on the package. After fluffing the couscous with a fork, add the olive oil and the peas and carrots mixture to the couscous and mix gently.

To make the sand castles: Simply spoon the couscous mixture into the ramekin or glass cup, and pack the mixture down using the back of the spoon. Place a dinner plate over the top of the ramekin and turn the plate over, gently remove the ramekin. Viola, a sand castle!

Makes 4 servings.

Couscous for the Family

At the market: Couscous can be found in the rice or pasta section of grocery stores. It is also commonly sold in the bulk section of stores too. Couscous is available in plain, flavored, and organic varieties. Common brands of couscous include Near East, Kasbah, and Rice Select.

The most common type of couscous are tiny grains. Israeli couscous, or pearl couscous, is a larger version. If you'd like to give Israeli couscous a try, you'll find it in a specialty market.

Storage: Store couscous in a sealed container or box in the pantry.

Preparation: Couscous is a terrific rice substitute, and is about five times faster to make. Most packages include cooking directions, but here is the general idea. Boil water or stock. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat, cover and let stand about 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork. Serve

Hint: Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the couscous to prevent it from being too dry.

Here are some quick ideas to add couscous into your family meals:

Endless variations: After fluffing with a fork, you add a few simple ingredients that will take couscous from bland to gourmet. The possibilities are endless but here are few simple ideas:

Chopped black olives, chopped cashews and halved cherry tomatoes
Roasted peppers and chopped fresh chives
Chick peas, 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice and chopped cilantro
Lentils, green peas and 1/2 teaspoon cumin
Chopped marinated artichokes and crumbled feta cheese
Black beans (rinsed), cooked corn, 1 Tablespoon lime juice and chopped cilantro

Make a couscous bed: If you are grilling fresh fish or shrimp, serve it on a bed of “citrus-infused” couscous. Make couscous according to the package. After you fluff it with fork, add 2 tablespoons of orange juice, a can of mandarin oranges (drained) and 2 tablespoons of chopped chives. Garnish with slivered almonds or pine nuts.

Couscous and Fresh Spinach: An excellent accompaniment to grilled lamb, beef or Portobello mushrooms, this dish is the right mix of sweet, salty and crunchy.

Ingredients:

1 (6 oz) box couscous
1/4 cup raisins
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, lightly chopped
½ teaspoon garlic salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

Make couscous according to package directions, adding 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Fluff couscous with a fork. Toss in raisins, pine nuts, spinach, garlic salt and cinnamon. Cover for 3-5 minutes or until spinach has wilted. Serve.

About the authors:

Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby, creators of products such as homemade baby food kits, baby food cookbooks, baby food and breast milk storage trays, breastfeeding reminders, and child development diaries. Visit them online at www.FreshBaby.com and subscribe to their Fresh Ideas newsletter to get monthly ideas, tips and activities for developing your family's healthy eating habits!

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