smak restuarant feature blog

Couscous - the food so nice they named it twice

Wednesday, September 27th 2017

Did you know that couscous is actually pasta? I kid you not.

There are a number of couscous varieties, but at smak our favourite to use is Israeli couscous. When we first tried it, it was love at first…. bite!

Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is a large grain couscous made from a blend of semolina flour and water. It is larger than the small grained yellow couscous of North Africa and is typically toasted, giving it a nutty flavour. The toasting process also makes it a sturdier grain, withstanding liquids and longer cooking times.

In the 1950s, Israel went through an austerity period where a lot of food resources were scarce and rationed, including rice, a dietary staple. Couscous was created based on a desperate need to come up with an alternative food source for the Israeli people. To this day, couscous remains a staple in households throughout Israel, and across the world.

What I love about couscous is its texture. It reminds me of perfectly cooked, al dente pasta. It can seem intimidating to cook for some, take it too far and you’re left with a stodgy mess, not far enough and you’ve got hard, crunchy grains. It’s because of this that I want to share some of my tips to cooking perfect couscous and share with you smak’s recipe for our popular Mediterranean couscous salad.

As a stand-alone ingredient, couscous lacks flavour but absorbs it really well (you’re in luck). To get the best out of this grain, I believe it necessary to flavour the couscous itself before adding any other ingredients. The best way to do this is to toast the raw couscous with some curry powder or garam masala spice in a pot before cooking. Be sure to do this on a low heat as you want to avoid burning the spices. When your kitchen starts to smell like a curry shop, it’s time to add boiling water to your pot (take note of ratios depending on how much you’re cooking). For added flavour, season the water as you would when cooking pasta.

For perfectly cooked couscous, boil the grains for 10 minutes and then turn the heat off, allowing the couscous to sit in the water for a further five minutes. Strain and allow to cool completely before using it as your base ingredient in a salad of your choice. I look at this humble ingredients as a blank canvas and you can be as creative as you like with what you add. I believe we need to stop looking at ingredients like couscous as a sideshow item but rather as the main act of any meal. It’s so versatile, delicious and nutritious.

For a Mediterranean style salad, which we serve with our Succulent Breast, this is what we suggest but don't feel limited to these ingredients. I haven't specified quantities either because I believe that the food should speak through you and you'll know when enough is enough.

Cucumber, cut into bite size pieces

Baby tomatoes, cut in half

Feta cheese, cubes or crumbled, whichever you prefer

Sunflower seeds, adds an additional crunchy texture

Olives, pitted - no one wants to bite into an olive pit

Spring onion, finely sliced

Baby corn, chargrilled is always the best, however, can be time consuming so tinned corn kernels will do just fine

Parsley, finely chopped

Mint, also finely chopped

Lemon juice, add to taste, but don't be shy! It really does enhance the flavour of the salad

And don't forget to season! 

One a final note, Pearl couscous is still hitting the South African markets as a trendy ingredient and so might be a bit difficult to find at your local grocery store, but not to worry, we have you covered and always try our best to stock it in our deli. So come on past to give it a try at lunch or buy a box to take home. And if you’re stuck, don't be shy to ask us for some ideas ;)  

Dig in,

Katia Scherf

Co-founder and chef at smak delicatessen and restaurant

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