The History of Couscous

By Katrina Aceret, Recent Arizona State University Nutrition Student

I discovered couscous two years ago. I never knew how simple this staple could be. Couscous is a tiny pasta made of wheat or barley; wheat couscous is the most widely available version in North America, and most of it is “instant” or quick cooking.2 Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, and Libya. It is steamed over a simmered stew after being tossed with a little water, or oil and water. The preparation of couscous symbolizes “happiness and abundance.” Couscous has 3.6 grams of protein per serving and is mainly served with meat, fish, vegetables, and spices.

One of the first references of couscous was in a thirteenth-century Muslim cookbook. It was described as “known all over the world.” Couscous was referenced by Arab traveler Leo Africanus, “Of all things to be eaten once a day it’s because it costs little and nourished a lot.” Couscous appeared in northern Europe when Charles de Clairambault, the naval commissioner, with his party of eighteen had brought their own flour and made couscous with dates. Even the traveler Jean-Jacques Bouchard wrote about couscous, “a certain kind of pasta which is made of little grains like rice, and which puffs up considerably when cooked.1


Couscous with vegetables is a very easy meal. The following recipe is vegetable couscous modified to my taste:


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 fresh bay leaf

1 medium onion, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, minced

1 cup uncooked couscous

1 zucchini, diced

¼ yellow squash, diced

1 ¾ cups boiling water

1 ½ cumin


4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 ¼ cups couscous

(optional) Parmesan Cheese (grated)



  1. Heat a large sauce pot over medium-high heat, add oil, bay leaf, onion, zucchini, and yellow squash. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Saute, stirring frequently, add jalapeno pepper. Then add broth to the pan. Add cumin.
  3. Add couscous to the broth, stir, cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes
  4. Fluff couscous with a fork.
  5. Top with parmesan cheese



  1. History of Couscous. Retrieved from
  2. Duguid, N. (2013) Global Pantry: what is couscous? Cooking Light


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