Cheers for couscous

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This little-known food is gaining growing popularity for its ease of cooking, taste and as a healthier option than pasta or rice. 

Elite food circles consider it one of the healthiest grain-based products today, and it is an easy substitute for rice or pasta. Yes, couscous is here to stay, and its various options of grain lends it a versatility that adapts to many different recipes. Couscous has been around through centuries of Middle Eastern cooking, but my first acquaintance with it was on supermarket shelves where its resemblance to the more familiar sago or sabudana drew my attention. I finally summoned up the nerve to try and cook it after viewing various dishes being prepared using couscous on as many TV shows. And it was not just easy to cook, but also healthy and very tasty.

Couscous contains 3.6g of protein for every 100 calories equivalent to pasta and is well above the 2.6g for every 100 calories of white rice. Its vitamin profile contains twice as much riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and folate than pasta, and four times as much thiamine and pantothenic acid. Couscous contains a 1% fat-to-calorie ratio, compared to 3% for white rice and 5% for pasta.

Of the many varieties of couscous available, I use Pearl couscous which is a small round variety made from wheat flour and semolina. Other popular types are Moroccan couscous (which looks just like semolina but the grains are slightly bigger in size), Israeli couscous (which has more medium sized grains which take longer to cook) and Lebanese couscous (which is the size of baby peas). Here are different recipes that bring out the best of couscous.

Couscous gratin

We’ve heard of potato gratin, so how about trying the healthier couscous version.

 

For the filling

4 cups couscous

4 cups water

1 medium eggplant, cut into circles

1 red capsicum cut into circles

1 green capsicum cut into circles

2 medium tomatoes cut into circles

1 medium zucchini cut into circles

2 tsp dried or fresh mixed Italian herbs

Oil for cooking

Salt and pepper to taste

For the white sauce

4 tbsp butter

2 tbsp plain flour

3 tbsp sugar

2-3 cups full cream milk

Salt and pepper to taste

For the topping

2 cups grated cheddar and mozarella cheese

1 cup breadcrumbs

Few pineapple rings

 

Boil the water with a tablespoon of oil. Stir in the couscous and turn off heat. Cover and leave for 10 minutes till the couscous absorbs all the water. Stir with a fork and keep aside.

To make the white sauce, heat the butter in a non-stick pan and add the flour. Cook till the flour turns golden brown. Take off the gas and add the milk slowly, stirring constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Add sugar, salt and pepper. Take a baking tray and spread the cooked couscous evenly across the base of the tray. Spread the white sauce evenly over it. Cover the top of the white sauce with the cut vegetables, spreading evenly over the surface. Keep aside. In a bowl, mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs. Spread evenly over the vegetable layer and decorate with the pineapple rings.

Bake in the oven at 160 degrees for 45 minutes or till the vegetables are cooked.

 

Vegetable Couscous

Simple and healthy, great for kids.

 

2 cups Moroccan couscous

2 cups water

2 cups cubed vegetables (potato, French beans, red capsicum, pumpkin)

1 ½  cup roasted ground peanuts

1 small tomato, cubed

Few curry leaves (optional)

2 cloves

1 stick cinnamon

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp cumin-coriander powder

½ tsp chilli powder (optional)

Oil for cooking

Salt to taste

1 tsp butter

Yogurt for serving.

 

Boil water in a saucepan with 1-2 tablespoon of oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour in the couscous and stir. Allow to stand for 2-3 minutes. Add butter and cook again on low fire to separate the grains. Heat oil in a non-stick pan and add cloves and cinnamon. Next, add cumin seeds and curry leaves. Once they crackle, add all the vegetables and cook till tender. Then add the couscous with the spices and tomato. Cook on slow fire till all the ingredients are well mixed. Serve with delicious thick yogurt.

Another method of cooking this recipe is to use 2-3 cups of vegetable or chicken broth instead of water. For an interesting accompaniment, blend together 3-4 medium roasted tomatoes, 1 tsp lemon juice, 4 garlic cloves, ½ tsp chilli powder and salt to taste with 6-7 tbsp of olive oil. Mix this puree with the couscous, adding a handful of cooked green peas to the mix. Serve hot or cold, as you prefer.

 

Berry and Saffron Couscous Pudding

1½ cups couscous

3 cups milk

2-3 tbsp honey

½ tsp vanilla extract

4 tbsp chopped nuts of your choice

2 cups berry mix (frozen berries will also do)

2 tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch saffron, dissolves in a tbsp of warm milk

½ cup thick cream for serving

Nuts for serving.

 

Boil the milk, then add the couscous, nuts, honey, saffron and vanilla extract. Let the couscous absorb the milk for 20-30 minutes. Keep aside and let the mix cool down. Heat the berries and brown sugar together in a pan till they form a thick and saucy consistency. Place both bowls in the fridge to cool. To serve, scoop some couscous mixture into dessert bowls and top with a dollop of cream, berry sauce, nuts and sprinkle with a pinch of cinnamon powder.

Tip: for a healthier option, use yogurt instead of cream

 

 

 

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