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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

couscous a grain product consisting of tiny balls of dough which are steamed and served like rice, mixed with a stew or sauce. It is a staple food throughout N. Africa; in Morocco and Algeria, some of the local names for it are identical to the word for ‘food’ in general. It has become part of the cuisine in neighbouring African countries from Chad to Senegal, in the eastern Arab countries (where it has been known since the 13th century as moghrabiyyeh, ‘the North African dish’), and elsewhere.

In dried form couscous might be mistaken for an exceptionally small soup noodle, but it is made by a wholly different technique that does not involve kneading. Instead, a bowl of flour is sprinkled intermittently with salted water while the fingers of the right hand rake through it in sweeping, circular movements, causing the dough to coagulate in tiny balls. They are also shaped by rubbing with the palm of the hand against the side of the bowl. From time to time the granules are sieved to ensure uniform size. When the process is complete, they are dried.