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Traditional North African Steamed Couscous

Couscous is a traditional dish prepared in North Africa, and a staple food item. The word couscous comes from the Arabic word "kaskasa" which means to pound small. Couscous is not a grain, but a pasta. The process of creating this food item is unique. It is made with the unground husk of semolina, which is the "flour" used to make many pastas. Then the 2 different semolinas are bound together by water. 

The original process of preparing couscous took a lot of work and time, and some places still prepare it in the original method. Like the tribal Berber areas and impoverished locations in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Before the cooking process the the larger semolina grains and the small semolina grains are rolled together and sprayed with salt water so that the 2 grains adhere to one another. Then the couscous is dried out for about 4-5 days. It has to be completely dry before storing. The traditional way to purchase couscous is in bulk, and it is steamed never boiled. It should actually never touch liquid. Unlike pasta the steam from the water cooks these small semolina grains. With pasta of course you boil the water. Here in the U.S. we have instant couscous and it is usually boiled because it is precooked, kind of like parboiled rice. This method of steaming works well with the couscous I purchased from Bob's Redmill. 

Yields 4 servings 


1 cup Couscous (I used Bob's Redmill Pearl Couscous) 

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

1/3 cup frozen peas- defrosted (optional)


Fresh Mint 


1. In a steam pot or stock pot, bring water to a simmer/light boil. 

2. Season the couscous with salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Place the couscous in the steamer basket or a tea cloth. Cover the steam basket or cloth with another cloth. 

3. Let the couscous cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile mince some of the mint leaves. Also let the frozen peas if using this ingredient sit on the kitchen counter while the couscous cooks.

4. Once the couscous has cooked, remove it from the stove and let it cool for about 10 minutes. 

5. Garnish the dish with the remaining olive oil, add the peas, mint and salt and pepper if it needs it. Mix.

This dish pairs well with chicken, fish, lamb, or beef. 


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