Fluffy couscous

Fluffy couscous

V is for Vegan

This is a step-by-step guide to the best way of making couscous. It’s a bit fiddly and requires that you eschew such blasphemies as quick-cook couscous. But with this method, each grain will lift and separate just like a Playtex bra. No clumps, no sogginess. So, this weekend, have a go at making couscous from Northern Africa. I’ve combined it here with spices, and sweet and sour flavours. The idea is to reproduce that Middle Eastern vibe of fruity acidic tastes in a savoury dish. If you don’t have dates or dried apricots, use sultanas; if you can’t find nibbed pistachios, use almonds; you can riff on my recipe. Enjoy with the tagine opposite and a heavy Middle Eastern wine, such as Sidi Brahim.


Quantity Ingredient
250g wholewheat couscous
1-2 tablespoons sea salt
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 chilli
4-5 dates or dried apricots, torn into pieces
1 tablespoon coconut oil
20g nibbed pistachio nuts
20g dried or semi-dried barberries
2 tablespoons black poppy seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon rosewater
30ml oil, ideally argan, for its subtly nutty taste
10g bitter orange peel, (optional)
handful pomegranate seeds, (optional)


  1. Spread the couscous onto a flat tray. Add the salt to the warm water and let it dissolve. Then, using your fingers, sprinkle the couscous with the water and rub it through your fingers, not letting it clump. Do this twice more, every 15 minutes. You will see that the grains have plumped up nicely without sticking together or getting waterlogged.
  2. You will need a fine-mesh sieve, plus a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. (Or use a couscoussière if you have one; I don’t.) Put almost boiling water into the saucepan, deep enough so that it won’t steam away, but not so deep that it touches the sieve. Add the ginger, coriander, cumin and chilli to the water.
  3. Place the sieve over the pan and put your plumped-up couscous into the sieve with the dates or dried apricots. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and fit it onto the saucepan.
  4. Place over a medium heat for 15–20 minutes to steam, checking the water level occasionally so that it doesn’t boil dry.
  5. When the couscous is cooked, tip into a bowl and mix in the coconut oil, pistachios, barberries, poppy seeds, cinnamon, rosewater, argan oil and bitter orange peel, if using. Garnish with the pomegranate seeds, if using.
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