Pasta & couscous

Pasta & couscous

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
5 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742708423
Photographer
Alan Benson

Depending on our ethnic origin, we tend to think of pasta as belonging to Italy or to China or Japan. But pasta dishes also have an important role to play in Middle Eastern cooking. Stuffed pasta dumplings, known as shish barack in Lebanon or manti in Turkey, are popular all across the Middle East and noodles, which the Iranians call rishteh and are called rishta in Lebanon and Syria – a word that translates to ‘thread’ – are used in a huge variety of dishes. They are added to soups, baked with vegetables in a tomato sauce, and cooked with rice or lentils to provide an interesting texture contrast. We also like to use short pasta, such as Greek orzo or Sardinian fregola, as a base for salads. And let’s not forget that couscous, the national dish of the Maghreb is, in effect, a kind of pasta, being made from finely rolled grains of semolina, a by-product of flour manufacture.

Couscous is of Berber origin, synonymous with the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia where it is eaten every day. Traditionally, the miniscule ‘grains’ are steamed slowly over a bubbling stew of meat or vegetables and they swell and soften in the fragrant steam to an ethereal light fluffiness. The couscous is poured into a large round tray, shaped into a mound and served with the broth and stew, often accompanied by a harissa-spiced sauce. There are also larger types of couscous, with grains up to the size of a pea, and these varieties are generally cooked in the broth, rather than being steamed atop a stew.

Today, couscous has taken over the world and with it has gone the lovingly and slowly prepared dish of the Maghreb. In its place, is a time-saving impostor ‘cooked’ with boiling water from the kettle. While we regret the loss of romance, we fully accept that few people these days have the time or inclination to cook couscous in the ancient manner. We remain huge fans of this clever, versatile ingredient that lends itself so well to so many different recipes and we enjoy it in all its guises, both traditional and contemporary, savoury and sweet. At its plainest, couscous can be eaten for breakfast with milk and fruit, or buttered and served alongside an exotically spiced Moroccan tagine; we also like to throw handfuls of couscous into soups, combine it with gently braised vegetables for hearty meals or toss with herbs, nuts and dried fruits in summery salads.

Recipes in this Chapter

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