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.


The Six: Get cooking with these Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks

Updated 21 October 2018
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The Six: Get cooking with these Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks

DUBAI: Whether you’re a tried-and-tested chef or a novice cook, try something new in the kitchen with these newly released, Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks.
‘Together: Our Community Cookbook’
In September, Meghan Markle, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, lent her backing to this charity cookbook that funds a community project set up by women seeking somewhere to cook in the wake of London’s Grenfell Tower fire.
‘Feasts from the Middle East’
The cookbook was created by Tony Kitous, the founder of successful UK-based Lebanese restaurant chain Comptoir Libanais, and features more than 100 recipes.
‘Baladi’
Joudie Kalla, the author behind “Palestine on a Plate,” is back with more tantalizing Palestinian recipes in the newly released cookbook.
‘The Mezze Cookbook’
From roasted cauliflower and tahini to pomegranate cakes, this book offers more than 135 recipes from across the Middle East.
‘Authentic Egyptian Cooking’
Abou El-Sid, one of Cairo’s most famous restaurants, presents more than 50 of its classic recipes in this treasure trove of a cookbook.
‘Suqar’
Ending on a sweet note, this recipe book, the title of which means sugar in Arabic, offers more than 100 desserts inspired by Middle Eastern classics, including puddings, pastries and everything in-between.