The staple grain of North Africa and becoming better known elsewhere, couscous is a form of semolina made from durum wheat and rolled into little pellets. Traditionally, it is cooked in a couscoussière, which looks like a steamer, and is put over a pot of a simmering spicy meat or vegetable stew. If you don’t have a couscoussière, use an ordinary steamer with a tight-fitting lid. Allow 250g (8oz) couscous to serve 4.
Couscous grains, except the instant variety, benefit from a certain amount of preparation before cooking to lighten them.
Soak the couscous grains in cold water for 10 minutes to swell and soften them. Drain in a fine sieve, not a colander, shaking well. Spread the couscous evenly on a clean tray with your fingertips. Allow to dry for about 15 minutes, then run your fingers through the grains to separate them and break up any lumps.
Sprinkle the couscous with more cold water, flicking it on with your fingers. Leave to dry again, spreading the grains evenly on the tray, then stir with your fingers to separate the grains. Repeat this process 1 more time. The grains continue to swell and lighten as they absorb more water and are thoroughly stirred.
Meanwhile, fit the top half of a steamer lined with a clean cloth over a pan of boiling vegetable, meat or chicken stock. Spoon in the couscous, cover tightly and steam for 15 minutes until the grains are light and fluffy. Fork through before serving with a spicy meat or vegetable stew.