Couscous, steamed yellow semolina grains, is Morocco’s national dish. There it may be served with a spicy vegetable, fish or lamb stew. It is made from hard – that is high-protein – wheat, which is formed into tiny pellets which are then coated in flour and traditionally cooked in a couscoussière, a double saucepan in which the upper portion is perforated with small holes like a colander. The liquid in the pan may just be boiling water but, typically, is the stew or sauce which will accompany the couscous.
You can now buy ‘instant couscous’ which needs only to be covered with boiling water, stirred and left to soak before eating and it really is very good. Old-style couscous must be soaked, then steamed for about 30 minutes. Look on the packet to see which type you are buying. With both, the key to a lump-free result is frequent stirring with a fork. If you do not have a couscoussière, line a colander with muslin and sit it on top of a pan into which it will just fit.
If using instant couscous, follow the packet instructions; if traditional couscous, put it into a bowl, cover with lots of cold water and leave to soak for 15 minutes.
While it is soaking, fry the onion in the oil until golden-brown.
Drain the couscous well, then stir in the onion and sultanas. Season with salt and pepper, put this mixture into a muslin-lined colander and steam over boiling water, uncovered, for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring and turning with a fork.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.