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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Couscous Pilaf with Salty Lassi

Couscous (pronounced /ˈkʊskʊs/ or /ˈkuːskuːs/) is a North African dish that has become popular in many countries. It was originally made from millet. Historians have different opinions as to when wheat began to replace the use of millet. The conversion seems to have occurred sometime in the twentieth century, although many regions continue to use the traditional millet. Couscous seems to have a North African origin. Archaeological evidence dating back to the 9th Century, consisting of kitchen utensils needed to prepare this dish, has been found in this part of the world.

Today, Couscous granules are usually made by rolling moistened coarsely ground semolina wheat into small balls, which are then coated with finely ground wheat flour. The finished granules are roughly spherical shape and about one millimeter in diameter before cooking. Different cereals may be used regionally to produce the granules. Traditional couscous requires considerable preparation time and is usually steamed. In many places, a more-processed, quick-cook couscous is available and is particularly valued for its short preparation time. Couscous is traditionally served under a meat or vegetable stew. It can also be eaten alone, flavored or plain, warm or cold (e.g., mixed with Tabbouleh), or as a side dish.

The dish is a traditional staple food throughout West Africa, Sahel, France, Spain, and the Canary Islands, Portugal, Madeira, Italy (particularly in western Sicily's Province of Trapani), as well as in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, parts of the Middle East and India and is eaten in many other parts of the world as well.

Couscous is a grain product made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat) or, in some regions, from coarsely ground barley or pearl millet. In Brazil, the traditional couscous is made from Cornmeals.
Couscous from semolina (wheat): The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets, sprinkled with dry flour to keep them separate, and then sieved. The pellets which are too small to be finished granules of couscous fall through the sieve to be again sprinkled with dry semolina and rolled into pellets. This process continues until all the semolina has been formed into tiny granules of couscous.

This process is very labour-intensive. In the traditional method of preparing couscous, groups of women would come together and make large batches over several days. These would then be dried in the sun and used for several months. Couscous was traditionally made from the hard part of the durum, the part of the grain that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive millstone. In modern times, couscous production is largely mechanized, and the product is sold in markets around the world.
In the Sahel, pearl millet is pounded or milled to the size and consistency necessary for the couscous

This recipe yields 6 servings:


• 2 cups dry couscous

• 3 cups water

• 2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

• 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

• 1/4 teaspoon asafetida

• 1 sprig fresh curry leaves

• 2 red chili pepper pods

• 1 medium yellow onion chopped

• 1" piece of ginger peeled and sliced

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 1/2 sweet Red pepper chopped

• 5 mushrooms sliced

• 1 Jalapeno pepper chopped

• 1/3 cup Frozen peas thawed

• 1/3 cup frozen corn thawed

• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice

• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional, but it add nice light yellow color to couscous)

• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder

• 1 tsp. paprika

• 1 tsp of additional salt or to taste

• 1-2 Roma tomatoes chopped

• 1/4 cup coriander leaves chopped

• 3 scallions, finely sliced with green part included


• Add salt to water and boil water.

• Pour boiling water over the couscous in a heat-proof bowl.

• Let it stand covered for 5 minutes until the water is absorbed.

• Mix well.

• Heat a frying pan on stove.

• Add olive oil.

• To the heated oil add mustard seeds, cumin seeds.

• When these splatter, add asafetida, curry leaves and red chili pepper pods.

• Fry these for few seconds and add chopped onion, minced garlic, sliced ginger, sliced mushrooms, chopped jalapeno pepper and chopped sweet red pepper.

• Saute for 2 min.

• Add turmeric powder, salt, cayenne pepper and paprika.

• Add peas and corn.

• Cook for another 2-3 min.

• Add chopped scallions and chopped tomatoes.

• Add the couscous and lime juice.

• Mix well until everything is well incorporated.

• Turn the heat off.

• Garnish with Cilantro.

• Serve hot.

My husband and I like it with fresh savory buttermilk (salty lassi) with hint of roasted cumin powder. Here is how I make homemade buttermilk (salty lassi).

Recipe for Salty Lassi
(to make two servings)

You will need following:

• 1 cup of plain yogurt

• 2 cups of ice cold water (or little more to desired dilution)

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon of roasted cumin seeds ground. (I just roast handful of cumin seeds of Tava (griddle) on stove for few min stirring them with wooden spoon, when nice aroma is emitted and seeds are turning dark brown, turn the heat off, let them cool and grind in mini grinder to desired fineness, you can store this powder in airtight container until next use)


• Mix everything and beat/whisk them with hand blender or hand churner until everything is well blended.

• Serve with couscous. (you can add some crushed ice if you like, but it dilutes the Lassi a bit, so I like mine without ice)

Couscous description source:

Recipe and Photographs by Surekha.

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