Cookin’ Couscous

Couscous has been popular among many different cultures, one of the first written recipes for couscous is found in a 13th century Hispano–Muslim cookbook, which references the recipe as “known all over the world.” Many people think of couscous as Middle Eastern or Mediterranean in origin, but it is really from Western Africa, where details of cooking and making couscous date back to the 10th century. Today, couscous remains a staple in Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian cuisine.

Couscous is a relative and increasingly popular newcomer to the American family table and menus. The increasing interest in the U.S. in vegetarian and ethnic cuisines accounts for much of this new exposure. Couscous is pasta that is made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat). It is considered an unrefined carbohydrate, which is a great source of energy for the body. In addition, couscous is also low in fat, a good source of fiber, and contains some protein.

Couscous has a subtle taste that is slightly nutty. It is a great substitute for rice with many meals and is a nice accompaniment to many different cuisines.

Age to introduce: 10–12 months (cooked)

Toddler Treat:
Sand Castles

Just the name of this side dish is cool enough for a little kid to give it a try, and the great taste will keep ’em digging in.


  • 1/2 cup frozen peas and carrots blend
  • 1 box (5–6 oz.) of couscous
  • 1 (14 oz.) can vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small ramekin or small glass cup (this will be the mold for your castle)


Cook peas and carrots according to the package directions. Prepare couscous according the package directions, but substitute the same amount of broth for the amount of water called for on the package. Add additional water to the can of broth if package instructions call for additional liquid. After fluffing the couscous with a fork, add the olive oil and the peas and carrots mixture to the couscous and mix gently.

To make the sand castles: Simply spoon the couscous mixture into the ramekin or glass cup and pack the mixture down using the back of the spoon. Place a dinner plate over the top of the ramekin and turn the plate over, gently remove the ramekin. Voilà, a sand castle!
Makes 4 servings.

Couscous for the Family

At the market: Couscous can be found in the rice or pasta section of grocery stores. It is also commonly sold in the bulk section of stores, too. Couscous is available in plain, flavored, and organic varieties. Common brands of couscous include Near East, Kasbah, and Rice Select.

The most-typical type of couscous is the tiny-grain form. Israeli couscous, or pearl couscous, is a larger version. If you’d like to give Israeli couscous a try, you’ll find it in a specialty market.

Storage: Store couscous in a sealed container or box in the pantry.

Preparation: Couscous is a terrific rice substitute, and it prepares in about one-fifth the time. Most packages include cooking directions, but here is the basic preparation guideline. Boil water or stock. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand about 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork. Serve.

Hint: Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the couscous to prevent it from being too dry.

Here are some quick ideas to add couscous into your family meals:

Endless variations
After fluffing the prepared couscous with a fork, you can add a few simple ingredients to take couscous from bland to gourmet. The possibilities are endless, but here are few simple suggestions:

  • Chopped black olives, chopped cashews, and halved cherry tomatoes
  • Roasted peppers and chopped fresh chives
  • Chickpeas, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and chopped cilantro
  • Lentils, green peas, and 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Chopped marinated artichokes and crumbled feta cheese
  • Black beans (rinsed), cooked corn, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and chopped cilantro

Make a couscous bed

If you are grilling fresh fish or shrimp, serve it on a bed of citrus-infused couscous. Make couscous according to the package. After you fluff it with a fork, add 2 tablespoons of orange juice, a can of mandarin oranges (drained), and 2 tablespoons of chopped chives. Garnish with slivered almonds or pine nuts.

Couscous and Fresh Spinach
An excellent accompaniment to grilled lamb, beef, or portobello mushrooms, this dish is the ideal mix of sweet, salty, and crunchy.


  • 1 (6 oz.) box couscous
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, lightly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Make couscous according to package directions, adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Fluff couscous with a fork. Add the raisins, pine nuts, spinach, garlic salt, and cinnamon. Cover for 3–5 minutes or until the spinach has wilted. Serve.

Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby. Visit them at and subscribe to their Fresh Ideas newsletter. Fresh Baby Baby Food Kits and other products are available at many fine specialty stores and national chains including Target, Wild Oats, and Whole Foods Markets.