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Roll Your Own Couscous

    I know! Just the thought of making your own couscous gives you a headache, but in fact it's easier than making your own pasta or bread and delivers the same satisfaction: superior taste and a sense of wonder at the magic of it all.

    I don't know why it took me so long to start teaching homemade couscous. Once I did, putting on a show costumed in my printed blue and white pantaloons and sitting on the floor the way North African women do, I remembered how much fun it was and how astonishing the results. Now, spurred on by terrific feedback from my students, I demonstrate couscous making whenever I get the chance. I’ve taught the staff at chez Panisse and at the Napa Valley Culinary Institute of America. I like to think that there are chefs across the country who are ‘rolling their own’—couscous, that is.

    When making couscous you'll need two horsehair, wire, or plastic sieves of different calibers through which to shake the rolled beads of semolina. You'll also need a couscous cooker or deep kettle with a colander that will sit snugly on top. And, of course, you'll need some fresh coarse semolina and fine semolina flour purchased by mail-order or from a good Middle Eastern store. With these items in hand, you'll be able to make enough fine-grain couscous to serve eight in literally 1 hour.

    When making your own couscous, you must use coarse semolina, not couscous, as the "magnet" for fine semolina flour.

    This recipe can be halved to serve 4.

Hand-Rolled Couscous

Serves 4 to 6
1 cup coarse semolina
  Pinch of fine sea salt
1/3 cup cold water (approximately)
1 cup fine semolina flour
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup cold water (approximately) for "raking" the couscous
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 cup strained broth



1. Spread the coarse semolina on a large, preferably round tray.Sprinkle a few tablespoons of salted cold water over the coarse semolina and, at the same time rotate the palm and fingers of one hand in wide circles (in one direction only) to create tiny spheres.

2. After two or three rotations, begin to sprinkle the semolina.

flour and about 1/4 cup cold water alternately on the spheres while continuing to rotate. As the spheres absorb the flour and water they will turn into tiny couscous "beads" more or less the same size. You may need another 1 to 2 tablespoons water.

3. Shake or lightly press the couscous "beads" through an everyday wire or plastic 12-mesh strainer in order to standardize their size. Place in a finer sieve to shake and remove excess flour. Makes about 4 cups uncooked fine couscous. (You may discard or use the flour, as North Africans do, to start the next batch.)

4. Bring plenty of water to a boil in the bottom of a deep kettle or couscous cooker. Pile the freshly rolled couscous into a lightly oiled colander or top container. Fit the top onto the bottom, checking for a tight seal. Partially cover and steam 15 minutes.

5. Dump couscous onto a tray and break up lumps with a large fork or whisk. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup salted water and rake the grains to keep them separate. Mix in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Gradually add another 1/2 cup water while raking the couscous. When the couscous has absorbed all the water repeat the steaming for 15 minutes.

6. Dump couscous onto a tray, gradually work in another cup cold water, and rake the grains to keep them separate. Allow to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff up the couscous and loosely cover with a damp towel. Up to this point the couscous can be prepared a few hours in advance.

7. Thirty minutes before serving, bring water back to a boil. Return the couscous to the colander or top container and steam, uncovered, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Couscous lightens in color when fully cooked.

8. Dump couscous onto a wide shallow serving dish and toss with oil or butter and moisten with 1 cup strained broth. Let stand,covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Gently fluff the couscous, pile ina mound, and decorate with meat or fish and vegetables.

© Paula Wolfert, 1998, 2005

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©1999—2008 Paula Wolfert