Traditional Algerian Couscous

Publié le par RadoTouille

Couscous is a versatile dish, emblematic of North Africa. It transcends socio-economic status and  is present on all tables throughout the Maghreb in general and Algeria in particular. It is a dish for celebrations, weddings and funerals. We can find elevated versions of it as well as very humble and simple forms. It is a true institution! 

It can be prepared in a variety of different ways. With vegetables, buttermilk, sauces, meat, poultry, fish, merguez sausages, sheep stomach and so on. there are as many sorts of couscous as there are families in the Maghreb.

Couscous is made out of durum wheat that is ground to obtain semolina used for breads and pasta. The leftover hard grain that stays in the grinder is then rolled with some water and semolina to obtain couscous. It is sifted twice to obtain 3 different calibers of couscous, then it is dried before storage.

The couscous needs to be steamed in order to obtain a fluffy texture. It is also better digestible once cooked that way. To do that you need a couscoussier: a deep pot fitted on the top  with a basket that has little holes, like a colander.  if you do not have one you can use a microwave. It's always better than to just pour boiling water  and fluff with a fork.

Below is my family recipe of couscous with meat and vegetables from the west of Algeria. Other families might/will not do it the same way, but this how we do it. I also added my own tweaks through the years and depending on the availability of products I have at hand.  I should be using lamb, but when I can't find any, then I use  beef. 

I will try to explain all the steps but do not hesitate to reach out it if you have any questions.

Enjoy the your house will smell like couscous 

For the sauce :  

  • 800g  lamb neck, shoulder or leg, sliced in thick shanks. If not available use beef shanks. 
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
  • 3 turnips peeled and halved lengthwise. (if available and if you like the taste)
  • 3  zucchini, washed and halved lengthwise. (I like keeping the skin on zucchini )
  • 2  potatoes peeled and quartered. 
  • 2  medium onions, peeled and puréed.
  • 4 Carrots peeled and halved lengthwise. 
  • 1 butternut squash peeled, and halved lengthwise. (if in season)
  • 250 g chickpeas, soaked overnight or from a tin
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp  paprika. (do not use the smoked one)
  • 1/8 tsp ground Cubeb pepper  (can substitute with all spice if need be)
  • 1 tsp Cubeb pepper whole.  
  • 500 g fresh tomatoes peeled and puréed. (alternatively a can of tomato purée)
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste (I do not use it)

In a deep pot heat the oil, then add the onions and let them start cooking, after 5 minutes add the meat and let it change color on both sides, but  do not brown it. 

Add the rest of the vegetables (except the zucchini and potatoes because they cook faster)

Add the chick peas, the spices and the tomatoes.

Mix it all well to infuse the spices to the meat and vegetables then cover with water and bring to a boil.


Lower the flame and let it slowly simmer until the meat is cooked. You need to keep an eye on your vegetables and take them out of the pot once as they cook through so that they don't disappear in the sauce. Check your seasoning and adjust it if need be. Add more water if the meat takes longer to cook. You want to have enough sauce.
Add the rest of your vegetables (zucchini and potatoes) and bring back to a boil. Once they are cooked and the meat is cooked you return the first vegetables back in the sauce to warm them.
Meanwhile, you take care of the grain.
For the grain : It is a hard step to explain

  •  1 kilo of couscous
  •  Water
  •  150 g unsalted butter 

In a gasaa (flat-bottomed wooden dish) or in a big bowl, place your couscous, 1 tbsp vegetable oil and 1 tbspof salt.  Rub it all together. Cover with water and drain the excess by carefully tipping the dish over on the sink, and blocking the grain from falling with your hand. It is ok if there is a little water left. 

Let it sit for 10mn. Then add water if needed. This is the kind of recipe that needs practice. There is not shortcut to experience in this case.

Fill the bottom of the couscoussier with water and bring to a boil.

Make sure all grains are separated, then place them in the basket and place the basket on top of the couscoussier for the grain to steam. You'll see the steam going through the grains. Let it steam for about 10mn. the grain need to be hot to the touch.

Flip over the basket with the steamed couscous in your "gasaa" or in your dish, cover with a clean tea towel and let it cool a couple of minutes. Break down the hot couscous to separate the grains, using your hands or a wooden spoon. Dilute salt in a little of water and sprinkle the surface of the couscous if needed.

This steaming process needs to be repeated twice.

At the end of the third step, dispose 150 g of butter (or more if you like buttery flavor) on the surface of the hot couscous and slowly mix it together to coat all the grains with the butter.  you can replace the butter with olive oil or ghee.

It is ready to be served in a serving platter, dress with the cooked meat and vegetables on top pour some sauce on the surface, and serve the rest on the side.

Enjoy ...




Commenter cet article

Votre blog est super et donne une irrésistible envie de cuisine !
J’aime beaucoup votre blog. Un plaisir de venir flâner sur vos pages. Une belle découverte et un blog très intéressant. Je reviendrai m’y poser. N’hésitez pas à visiter mon univers (lien sur pseudo) A bientôt.