Couscous, a dish beloved far beyond North Africa

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A Moroccan chef prepares a traditional couscous dish in a restaurant in the capital Rabat. (AFP)
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A Libyan family prepares to eat a freshly cooked traditional couscous dish, with lamb, onions, chickpeas, and pumpkin, in a home in the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
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A freshly prepared traditional couscous dish, with lamb, onions, chickpeas, and pumpkin, being served in a home in the Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Couscous, a dish beloved far beyond North Africa

PARIS: Couscous may be the signature dish of North Africa, but steaming plates of the stew-topped semolina are also served up in West Africa and around the Mediterranean.
Since 1998 the Italian island of Sicily has been the unlikely host of the couscous-making world championship known as Cous Cous Fest, which bills itself as a “festival of cultural integration.”
Each September chefs convene on Sicily, whose Mediterranean location opposite Tunisia has made it a cultural crossroads throughout history, battling to be crowned couscous king or queen.
Palestinian chefs George Suheil Srour and Elias Bassous won the competition last year, with a couscous topped with grilled sea bream, pomegranate and fennel crumble.
In France, from the mid-20th century an influx of North African laborers from colonial territories and French expats returning after decolonization helped popularise the dish.
But here too, couscous already had a history.
In his 1534 novel “Gargantua,” the French writer Francois Rabelais described banquets on tables featuring meats of all kinds, accompanied by soups and couscous.
The 1938 version of the Larousse Gastronomique, France’s hallowed food bible, featured an entire chapter on the dish.
Spain also has long been gobbling couscous, not least due to centuries of Muslim rule on the Iberian peninsula.
“From the 10th century durum wheat was cultivated in Spain and couscous landed on the tables of the working classes,” write Hadjira Mouhoub and Claudine Rabaa in their book “The Adventures Of Couscous.”
But the local aristocracy was rather partial too, they added — as related in the 13th-century cookbook “The Excellences of the Table,” by Andalusian gastronome Ibn Razin Al Tujibi.


Temperature Restaurant: Farah Al-Ohali offers Saudis a new take on comfort food

A family eating at Temperature restaurant. (Supplied)
Updated 18 October 2018
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Temperature Restaurant: Farah Al-Ohali offers Saudis a new take on comfort food

  • Al-Ohali has unusual offerings that could be called the ultimate comfort food
  • She credits her Kuwaiti genes for her innate desire to explore new palates and cuisines

DAMMAM: Turning up the temperature this summer in Al-Khobar is a “modern home cuisine” restaurant, founded and run by a young Saudi-Kuwaiti female chef, Farah Al-Ohali. Temperature is just seven months old, but Sharqawis are already familiar with Al-Ohali’s unusual offerings that could be called the ultimate comfort food.
The 22-year old credits her Kuwaiti genes for her innate desire to explore new palates and cuisines.
“The dining scene in Kuwait is much more developed; and people are much more open to experimenting with their palates, compared to other GCC countries,” she told Arab News. Coming from a family of innovative cooks — her aunt is known to cook up a notoriously delightful kabsa with turkey, instead of the traditional chicken — Al-Ohali has always loved cooking and would spend hours preparing and hosting elaborate dinner parties for friends and family.


In 2015, Al-Ohali left for Florence, to pursue the culinary arts professionally. She enrolled in an intensive certification program, learning techniques for over 250 dishes, assisting the chef in his kitchen, and working in a high-pressure environment. Coming back to the Kingdom, Al-Ohali was happy to cook for her family, but they weren’t impressed.
“The butter, cream, and flour characteristic to [what they thought] of Italian cooking was missing and they hated the ‘Italian’ I made for them,” she said with a rambunctious laugh. And thus began her journey to adapt flavors to the Saudi culture.
Her research was simple: She just asked Saudis what they ate and why they liked eating a particular dish. From there, she started an Instagram-based business and a pop-up food kiosk for public events. Some of her most popular creations have been chicken tenders in a waffle cone; nachos with chutney; mac and cheese grilled sandwiches; and coffee-marinated brisket sandwiches. Before long, Al-Ohali was approached by a marketing and talent management agency who helped her set up the restaurant.
Now, Al-Ohali is the creative force and chef behind Temperature (the most important element of every dish). The ambience reflects her effervescent personality: a snazzy beverage bar, bistro-style furniture and fittings, and rose, gold and green accents.


The breakfast menu is Al-Ohali’s personal favorite and it’s easy to see why.
First, we tried The Anita, a grilled brioche sandwich brim-full of layers of beetroot pesto, basil pesto, labnah, kashkawan and mozzarella cheese. Elevating a standard pesto sandwich, The Anita is worthy of weekend-morning indulgence. Plus points too for its Instagram-worthy pink hues.
“I use simple flavors that you would eat at home, but they are paired unusually with an ingredient that is not commonly used here or with an ingredient that you wouldn’t think of normally using,” Al-Ohali explained.
The Mushroom on Toast bears testament to her approach. Brioche bread topped with mushrooms, an in-house special cream, parmesan, arugula, sunny-side-up eggs, and, finally, balsamic vinegar drizzle. The tart vinegar offsets the sweet mushroom cream and creates an interesting fusion of flavors.
The Messy French, a crunchy brioche bread with salted caramel and maple syrup served with ice-cream, makes for a perfect accompaniment to the hazelnut latte. The menu is limited, but you can be assured that ,whatever you order, your expectations of comfort food are elevated a notch or two.
The Temperature is definitely on the rise.