How to cook couscous – even people who normally find it boring think this is not

“You probably began exchanging gastronomic intimacies as early as your first date, and by now she must be dying to taste some of the specialties you’ve described, and so you can ask her to do just that. ‘You know that recipe for couscous I told you I discovered in Algiers? Well, how about coming up to my place a week from Saturday and trying some for dinner? You really can’t get anything like it this side of the Casbah, and I’d love to cook it for you”.

Mimi Sheraton, The Seducer’s Cookbook

I would love to tell you that I’d discovered this recipe in Algiers, but I’d be lying…in fact I discovered it at The Cook Academy in New Alresford, in Hampshire. I don’t think this school is running any more, but it was the brainchild of Kate Hughes, a former senior lecturer at Leith’s, and it was here that after many years of making indeterminate, uninteresting couscous, I finally learnt to make couscous deemed worthy of eating by the Saucy Dressings’ chief taster.

It’s the method which is the key…I’ve changed the quantities minimally to make the whole thing even simpler and easier…but just as good.

What is couscous?

Couscous are grains of semolina paste made from durum wheat. It’s milled to remove the bran and germ, leaving the rich yellow endosperm granules called semolina (semolina are the hard grains remaining after milling). Couscous is effectively a type of pasta.

It comes, however, not from Italy (although you will find it, eaten with fish, in western Sicily), but from north Africa

What is durum wheat?

Durum wheat is a completely different type of wheat to the wheat used in bread and baking. Durum wheat has a higher protein content and contains more gluten. It’s the hardest type of wheat (Durum meaning ‘hard’ in Latin) and it produces a dough which is less elastic than bread doughs, making it easier to form into pasta shapes.

What can you do with couscous?

  • As they do in north Africa – serve with meat stews, tagines to soak up the juices
  • Throw into salads for a bit of texture
  • Goes rather well with purple sprouting broccoli
  • Use as a bed for meatballs

How to reheat couscous

The key here is butter…. this is what brings couscous back to life. Either bake, dotted with a few knobs of butter, covered in an oven preheated to 180°C for 20 minutes; or fry in butter until heated through.

Alternatively you can use a mix of yoghurt and olive oil, but it isn’t as good.

What to do with leftover couscous

Mix in parsley, mint, cucumber, spring onions, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. You can also add pomegranate seeds, or dried goji berries….raisins even. And serve with yoghurt.


Use to stuff a chicken.

Recipe for Golden, Gilded Couscous

Serves 2


  • couple of knobs of butter (about 25g/1 oz)
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin (or you could use cumin seeds, dry fry, and grind in a pestle and mortar – forget the taste, the kitchen would smell wonderful!)
  • 1 cup/170g couscous
  • 1 cup just boiled chicken stock
  • 30g/¼ cup toasted, slivered almonds
  • salt and pepper


  1. Put the butter into a two-handled Le Creusset type casserole, and fry the onions until they are just becoming a light golden colour (this will take somewhere between five and ten minutes – DO NOT LET THE ONION BURN).
  2. Add the turmeric and cumin and continue to fry for another minute.
  3. Add the couscous and stir to coat.
  4. Add the stock, remove from the heat, cover with a drying up cloth, and leave for about 12 minutes (on the hot plate if you have an aga) until the water has been absorbed.
  5. Fluff it up with a fork and season (it would be very nice with lemon salt – try Falksalt).
  6. Sprinkle with the almonds.
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