There were many “firsts” I wanted to experience when I first arrived in Morocco but one of the things I anticipated the most was eating Moroccan Couscous for the first time.
Although I had heard the word couscous for years, I didn’t have a very good grasp of precisely what it meant, especially its special place in Moroccan culture and tradition. The grain was somewhat mysterious to me, let alone the entire dish. Virtually I knew was that it was a near-sacred meal here and it was served every Friday. Needless to say, I looked forward to my first Friday in Casablanca with great anticipation.
Surviving a murky history, Moroccan Couscous is definitely a very old recipe, originating from the Berber word “K-seksu,” referring to the way the semolina grain is prepared for the dish. It should be noted here that, when Moroccans speak of couscous, they are referring to the entire dish, not just the grain.
When prepared according to the original recipe, Moroccan Couscous uses seven vegetables, including carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, zucchini, cabbage, pumpkin and chili pepper. It also incorporates a generous amount of couscous grains, which need to be steamed three times, and a serving of meat that can be anything from beef, to lamb, to chicken… basically, anything that is handy.
Recipes vary widely and even include fish and seafood couscous, and a wide range of spices for the adventurous palette. Truthfully, one of the main reasons for the longevity of this dish has to be its adaptability. On top of that, it’s also easy to prepare, high in nutrition and fat and sugar free! What’s not to love?
As I sat down to my first traditional Moroccan Couscous meal, I was immediately struck by the incredible aroma emanating from my hostess’ kitchen. When the dish was finally revealed I realized this was not only going to be a feast for my stomach, but also a feast for my eyes! My chef was an artist, with not so much as one chick pea seeming to be out of place. When the first spoonful hit my taste buds, I knew I had never tasted anything so perfectly blended… one ingredient segued perfectly into the next and nothing overpowered. Yes, I used a spoon, watching my friends and new Moroccan family in quiet fascination as they maneuvered the tiny, soft grains, vegetables and meat with an expertise and ease that I could only watch in awe. It’s been 6 months since that first Couscous and I still don’t have the technique down.
Over the centuries, the importance of couscous in Moroccan culture and tradition has broadened into something a great deal more than simple nutrition. It has woven itself into the very fabric of Morocco itself, into a special occasion for uniting family, friends and community on a regular basis. In fact, it holds such an important place in the hearts and minds of modern day Moroccans that a campaign is now underway to have the dish added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Couscous! It truly is the stuff of legend…