Couscous, like Italian pasta, was one of the staples of my undergrad dinner days. Inexpensive and filling, not to mention quick to prepare, I ate couscous a couple times a week, adding vegetables, fried tofu, and various spices or pre-made sauces to flavorize the otherwise nondescript meals. Then a day came in my early twenties when I started experimenting in the kitchen and lost interest in couscous. Little did I know how remarkable this staple actually is.
Originating in northern Africa, couscous–”seksu” in Berber–translates to well-formed and rounded. While couscous can be made from several different kinds of grains, the kind we’re most accustomed to comes from semolina (the grain that’s ground into flour for pasta).
If you want to make homemade couscous, you’ll need semolina grain, water, and a lot of time. Sprinkled with water, the semolina is rolled between your hands until it slowly transforms into the round shape we associate with couscous.
Recently I’ve returned to this hearty foundation for meals, and while I’ve never made couscous from scratch, I’ve gained a newfound appreciate for the work that goes into making such a seemingly simple staple. I can only daydream that one day I’ll be lucky enough to spend time in Morocco and savor the handmade version.
In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for dried couscous from the bulk section of my neighborhood grocery store. Below you’ll find a recipe that harkens back to my frugal college days when splurging on a hot chocolate at a coffee shop after a couscous dinner was a guilty pleasure. Yes. I liked to live dangerously in New York.
Roasted Vegetables with Couscous (adapted from a Danny Boome Food Network recipe)
1 small zucchini, halved and cut into slices
1 medium bell pepper, diced (I used an orange pepper.)
1 yellow onion, diced in large pieces
3 roma tomatoes, quartered
2 carrots, diced into large chunks
Olive oil, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups uncooked couscous
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup orange juice
1 to 2 tsp dried mint
2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lemon, grated zest and juice
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the veggies with oil, mint, spices, salt, and pepper. Spread cut vegetables on a baking sheet. Place in oven, and roast for about 10 minutes.
2. Place couscous in a heat proof bowl and stir in all the spices and orange juice. Bring the vegetable stock to a boil and pour over the couscous making sure it covers the couscous mixture completely.
3. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and leave for 5 to 10 minutes or until all the stock is absorbed.
4. Stir in the herbs, olive oil, grated lemon zest, and juice. Fluff the couscous with a fork and top with roasted vegetables.