Couscous is a staple in the North African kitchen, where there are as many ways to serve it as there are chefs. Although it is usually classified as a grain, these little granules are actually tiny pasta
made by coating coarse ground semolina with flour.
In traditional Moroccan cuisine
it was prepared in a two-chambered couscoussière; a stew would be cooked in the lower chamber, and the couscous would be cooked as the aromatic steam rose through perforations in the second chamber. The essence of the stew would flavor the couscous as it expanded slightly.
Of course, you don't need special equipment or a stew to enjoy this wonderful, light pasta. A little chicken stock and almost any minced, or diced ingredients - from sautéed onion to pine nuts and from chopped olive to currants - some spices, chopped parsley, and seasoning and you will have a quick and delicious side dish that is just as appropriate for a piece of grilled salmon as an authentic Moroccan tangine.
This is my favorite way to prepare couscous. It's the speedier of two methods suggested by cookbook author and chef Joyce Goldstein, who's written extensively about North African recipes and practically begs readers not to follow the package directions, which result in very dense, heavy couscous.
According to Goldstein, this is the best quick way to achieve a light, fluffy texture without actually having to steam the couscous several times in the traditional way.
Pour 3 cups dry couscous into a lasagne-type pan. Bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil, season water with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and pour over the couscous. Stir well with a fork to moisten every piece. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10-15 minutes, or even longer if the water is not all absorbed. (She assures us that it WILL absorb, eventually!) Rake with a fork to break up lumps, and serve right away.