201 - Couscous 101

By Mary Luz Mejia

Until you’ve had properly steamed couscous made by a pro, believe me, you haven’t savoured the real deal. The packets of instant couscous that you add water to and fluff with a fork don’t hold a candle to the superlative flavour achieved by making it the old-fashioned way. Abdul el-Masari Abderrazak, owner and chef of Toronto’s own Tunisian restaurant, Djerba La Douce is a master with the semolina grains.

On a recent visit to his colourful restaurant, Abdul told me that he learned to cook in his father’s restaurant- a little place in a souk (central market) on the Isle of Djerba. His father would make up to four dishes using local, fresh ingredients. Once all of the food was served and consumed, the restaurant would close. By observing his father’s tried and true cooking methods, Abdul learned to make the most wonderful, light and flavourful couscous I’ve ever had.

Using a couscoussière - a traditional steamer- Abdul steams his couscous twice to attain a perfect fluffy, gum-free consistency. To build in more flavour, Abdul steams the couscous over a fragrant broth of vegetables, chicken or lamb infused with the ever-present Tunisian hot-sauce, harissa. This lends the grains an extra layer of flavour and depth.

True North African couscous is traditionally made by hand. It’s a laborious process that village women often undertake as a group, using two parts of coarsely ground semolina (durum wheat), one part flour, salt and water. Rubbed or molded by hand until beads of couscous are formed takes a while, and knowing how to feel for the proper consistency is a talent most of us wouldn’t grasp immediately. Abdul uses good quality couscous from North Africa and serves it up with fall-off-the-bone tender meat or merguese sausage with the distinctive tomato-red, spicy harissa sauce. The result is a lip-smacking combination that you just can’t coax out of a box.

Djerba la Douce
1475 Danforth (West of Coxwell)
(416) 778-7870

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