Today, we talk ‘Couscous’…
For the ones among us unfamiliar with it; let me introduce you to a staple in many North African countries; Couscous. Generally made using semolina, this wholesome grain is served with almost every meal in Morocco, Algeria and its neighboring countries. And like all healthy grains, couscous has spread through the rest of the world and into our kitchens.
Couscous, which is appropriately derived from a word meaning ‘well-rounded’ due to its shape, is also well rounded nutritionally. Full of essential B vitamins as well as minerals, it has a low glycemic load and packs an impressive 6g of protein per cup, cooked.
Adding to these qualities is the fact that the couscous sold in our western markets is pre-steamed and dried…which means all we have to do is add some hot water or stock, cover and leave for 5 minutes. Voila, it’s ready to serve. Of course, you could also make it in a ‘Couscoussier’, the traditional steamer used to make couscous in North African countries.
Couscous is like a blank canvas waiting for the ‘food artist’ in me to fill it with color and flavor. Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of Indian flavor combinations and ingredients with couscous (and honestly, not all have been successful.) The clear winner is this Couscous Chaat, which has become a much-in-demand side at parties and my go-to favorite for weeknights.
Our Couscous Chaat uses all the flavor elements of an Indian Chaat (common term used for street foods like this hash and these kebabs across India) called ‘Bhel’. What is Bhel, you say? Well, it’s a wildly popular street food from West India which uses a base of puffed rice and raw chopped vegetables along with a mix of tangy, sweet & spicy chutneys and a crunchy topping. Using couscous, red onions, tomatoes along with the spicy kick of Serrano peppers and a chutney-inspired dressing; we give you a dish that is simple, addictive and impossible to resist.
1 cup couscous (yields about 3 cups cooked)
1/2 a red onion, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 Serrano pepper/2-3 green chilies, finely chopped
Tortilla chips as a crunchy topping
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic paste (1 garlic clove, grated)
1/2 teaspoon ground red chili or cayenne pepper (if you like it spicy)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon amchur or Chaat masala* (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
*Amchur (dried mango powder) or Chaat masala adds an authentic Chaat taste to the dish. However, leave it out if you don’t have either on hand.
Cook the couscous as per package directions. Cover and leave aside for the grain to absorb the liquid and re-hydrate.
Whisk all the ingredients for the chutney-inspired dressing together in a bowl. Leave the dressing aside for the flavors to blend for 5-10 minutes while you prep the vegetables.
In a large bowl, mix together the cooked couscous, onion, tomato and Serrano pepper. Add the chutney-inspired dressing to the couscous and vegetables. Serve topped with hand crushed tortilla chips. This delicious and spicy couscous works well as a side to any meat or fish.