Couscous is both the name for these tiny pasta granules and for the delicious and splendidly fragrant North African dishes that combine the pasta base with a variety of a savoury stews. Properly made, couscous is almost impossibly light, delicate, delicious – and well worth the effort. Since steaming couscous increases its volume 500% to 600%, 1 cup serves two very generously. If couscous is not expanded through steaming, it will expand in your stomach – with indigestible results!
1. Place couscous in a sieve and wet thoroughly under cold running water. Empty into a bowl, After 5 minutes, gently break up lumps with your fingers.
2. Lightly oil the top half of a couscousier or snuggly-fitting steamer insert and place over boiling liquid – usually the savoury stew that will complete the dish. The level of the liquid must be well below the bottom of the insert. Spread the couscous loosely into the steamer and steam for about 15 minutes.
3. Dump the couscous onto a large platter and spread out with a fork. Sprinkle some salt and a little water (about 1/3 cup of water per cup of uncooked couscous) over the couscous and gently mix with a fork until all lumps are broken up. Allow couscous to cool until you can handle it, then gently work the grains with lightly oiled or buttered hands.
4. Pile the couscous back into the steamer and steam for another 15 minutes.
5. Tip the couscous out onto a large, heated serving platter, moisten it with some broth and fluff it with a fork. Cover loosely and allow it to swell for 10 minutes.
6. Arrange the savoury stew over and/or around the pasta, or combine stew and pasta, as called for in your recipe.
Please note that if the stew is completely cooked before the couscous is ready, remove it to another pot and finish steaming the couscous over boiling water.