David Tanis, who writes the weekly City Kitchen column, is the author of two cookbooks, “A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes” and “Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys.”
I wanted to serve couscous with the North African meatballs in this week’s City Kitchen column. But what kind?
Fine- or medium-grain semolina couscous is always good, but I wanted something a little toothier, so the choice was the large “pearled” couscous, often called Israeli. Actually, this large-format couscous is known throughout the Middle East as moghrabieh, and is simmered like pasta, then drained. When properly cooked, it has a nutty pleasant texture, good with a saucy dish. If you can’t find it, you could substitute Italian fregola.
I also experimented with two other kinds of traditional large hand-rolled couscous. One was called M’hamsa from Tunisia; the other was Maftoul, a wheaty Palestinian kind. Both are excellent sun-dried artisanal products with lots of flavor.
But even regular plain couscous, the grocery store type, can be perfectly wonderful, though avoid so-called instant couscous. The package directions for steeping fine and medium couscous in boiling water give good results (all couscous has been pre-steamed so it is ready in only a few minutes anyway). For fluffier couscous, follow the directions, then spread the seasoned cooked couscous out on a baking sheet to cool. Break up any lumps. Just before serving, re-heat in a colander over rapidly boiling water for 10 minutes.