Algeria: Couscous 🇩🇿

Remember when couscous became a thing?

I think it was the mid-1990s, when Near East started putting boxes of the stuff on your store shelves and you could make it in 5 minutes. It was an easy way to get some weeknight carbs, a parents’ dream in a one-pot meal, and it was even, dare I say, exotic.

I loved that stuff. My family would eat it a couple of times a month. I’d keep boxes in the pantry for meals when I was cooking for myself. Pine nuts, seasoning packet, tiny semolina grains, 5 minutes, good to go.

In 1998, I was fortunate to go on a school trip to Spain, a trip that included an optional one-day excursion to Morocco for $80, and heck yeah I was doing that. We had lunch in the city of Tetouan, in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sitting on the floor and having couscous.

It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was light, flavorful, even decadent.

I don’t think I ever ate another box of instant couscous again. I knew what I had available to me in the states was not even comparable to what I had in Morocco.

For some reason, it never occurred to me to try to learn how to make a better couscous, until I got up to Algeria in the Nation Plates project. That’s when I started to learn about this fascinating dish: It’s gently steamed to cook, water and oil mixed in with the couscous before put over a hot pot. And then it’s steamed again. And again.

It seemed challenging, and it took some improvisation – particularly in finding a receptacle to steam fine-grain couscous. I used a strainer, which was imperfect but sufficient.

Recipe sourced from Halal Home Cooking, with some edits.

Lamb Merguez Couscous

  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 # merguez sausage
  • 1 1/2 medium onions, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 ts Ras El Hanout
  • 1 ts ground cumin
  • 1 ts ground coriander
  • 3/4 ts fine salt
  • 1/2 ts ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 ts ground black pepper
  • dash of harissa paste, or to taste
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 2 carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, washed, trimmed and sliced
  • 1/2 # fine couscous
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil, divided plus more for greasing steaming basket
  • 1 2/3 cups water, divided
  • 1 Tb unsalted butter
  • Stew

    1. Over medium heat, warm oil in your cookware. Add merguez and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, leaving fat in the pan.
    2. Reduce heat to medium low, adding the onion and caramelizing, stirring often.
    3. Return the meat to the pot, along with the spices, stirring to incorporate. Add water, and increase heat to medium-high, bringing to a boil.
    4. Simmer for 40 minutes.
    5. Add vegetables, and simmer for another 20 minutes.
  • Couscous

    1. In a large bowl, add the couscous and stir in 1/2 Tb of olive oil, mixing to coat the grain evenly. Add in 1/4 cup of water, and mix to coat.
    2. Grease the inside of a fine-mesh strainer and pour in the couscous. Place in the pot, suspended above the cooking liquid, and cover, steaming for 10 minutes.
    3. Remove the strainer, and pour the couscous back in the bowl. Separate the grains, add a pinch of salt, a 1/2 cup of water, and return to the strainer, putting it back in the pot for another 10 minutes.
    4. Remove the strainer, pour back into the bowl, separate the grains and add 3/4 cup of water. Stir in the remaining oil and butter. Steam for another 10 minutes.
    5. Serve the couscous on a large platter, then add the meat mixture on top.

 

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