Couscous

Couscous is a dietary staple of people inhabiting the North African nations. It is crudely pulverized semolina pasta and till date known as the national dish of Morocco. The shape, texture and color of couscous is similar to that of rice. Similar to rice, it is also used in a variety of dishes. A single grain of couscous is akin to the size of a sugar grain. People in the Middle East countries also use this dish extensively and, over the years, it has also become popular in America. Couscous is prepared using flour, ground semolina, salt and water.

Couscous, which is very often served along with meat - such as lamb, mutton and chicken, and vegetables is a very popular dish in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Couscous is seasoned differently by people in different countries. Moroccans, who consume this dish most often, season it with saffron that imparts a yellow color to the dish. Moreover, they may use fish to top the dish with and add a sauce prepared with onions and raisins. On the other hand, people in Algeria add tomatoes to couscous, while people in Tunisia prepare a spicy dish with it adding a harissa sauce.

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Precisely speaking couscous is a substance that is used in cooking, especially in the form of a substitute for quinoa or rice. While couscous is an extremely versatile culinary ingredient, it is also easy to cook - you just need to add some hot water to it and keep fluffing it using a fork. This food is served in recipes or in the form of a side dish. Couscous can be served in several ways - you may mix this substance with sautéed vegetables, add couscous to soups and even use it in the form of a cereal for breakfast.

Many stores across the globe sell a pre-steamed, dried form of couscous that can be prepared in different ways. One of the simplest ways to prepare this version of couscous is pouring broth or boiling water over pasta and subsequently sealing the bowl using a plastic wrap. When kept in this condition for a few minutes, the grain will swell and the cook can fluff it using a fork. If prepared in the correct manner, couscous has a moist and tender taste, while its texture is fluffy and light. In fact, couscous can be prepared much faster compared to several rice varieties.

People in many countries only consume couscous often steamed in a steamer basket known as kiskisor couscousiera along with vegetables and meat. This dish is usually served along with chicken or salmon dishes. Couscous can also be served as a dessert when it is sweetened with sugar, cinnamon and almonds. Alternatively, fruits can also be added to this dessert for a delightful flavour. Another way of preparing couscous is adding buttermilk to prepare a cold soup. Couscous is prepared with peas or beans to offer a wonderful salad. It is interesting to note that the term couscous also refers to various dished prepared from wheat and/ or grains.

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One French side dish is made by combining couscous, brie cheese, garlic, onion, butter and olive oil. A different side dish, which is very common, is prepared by combining couscous pasta with lemon and mint. Often couscous is also used to make a stuffing by using pistachios and raisins. In Israel, couscous is cooked in the same way they prepare pasta, but they are smaller than a pea in size. On the other hand, the Lebanese version of couscous takes a longer time to prepare. The Lebanese first soak couscous in hot ware for anything between 30 minutes and 45 minutes before cooking.

Couscous is a healthy food as it has very low fat content. In addition, it contains carbohydrates. This, in turn, means that consuming it does not result in spiked in sugar level in the blood stream. Though couscous is usually considered to be a grain, in reality it is pasta. Similar to grains, such as rice, couscous has a tendency to assume the flavour of the type of sauce or the ingredients added to it to prepare a dish.

Couscous varieties

Couscous is available in varying sizes. The larger variety of couscous is usually known as "Israeli couscous" or simply "pearl couscous". The flavour of the larger variety couscous is more like that of nuts and its texture is chewier compared to the smaller varieties of this "grain". As the size of the "Israeli couscous" is larger compared to the other smaller varieties, it naturally takes relatively longer to cook.

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Typically, the smaller varieties of couscous are found in the Maghreb, They have a grainer texture and are not as nutty as the larger variety - the Italian couscous. Owing to their smaller size, this variety of couscous takes very little time to prepare - often just a few minutes. The smaller variety of couscous is generally called the Lebanese or Libyan couscous. If you are in the Middle Eastern countries, you will often find couscous packed in boxes. However, these are usually hand-made. The process involved in making hand-made couscous is a long one and one needs to be skilled to master the process. While home-made couscous is equally appetizing as home-made pasta, but the couscous you find in grocery stores is also equally good. In addition, the latter are also more foolproof. Making couscous at home is quite simple. If one can make spaghetti, he/she can also make couscous at home.

You can be creative if you follow the basic recipe involved in cooking couscous. In fact, it will enable you to make your own recipe with couscous. You may add vegetables like carrots and raisins and even fruits like apples in addition to chicken stock to add a twist to the conventional staple couscous dish. In fact, this grain is very versatile allowing you to make numerous types of delicious couscous dishes.

Health benefits

Couscous offers a number of health benefits. Therefore, when you incorporate this food in your diet, it helps you to remain healthy and agile. It is worth mentioning here than a serving of one cup of couscous offers you 43 mcg of selenium, which is about 61 per cent of the 70 mcg of this mineral's daily value. Our body needs this essential trace mineral in very small amounts and it works as an antioxidant, thereby protecting our body's healthy cells from the effects of mutation caused by toxins, which alter the DNA as well as structural composition. When this occurs, it results in premature aging and several diseases.

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Couscous also contains sufficient amount of another essential mineral - potassium, which undertakes vital functions like regulating the heartbeat and blood pressure. Potassium is also useful in controlling the balance of fluids in the body. This is a vital factor in regulating blood pressure, in addition to helping muscle contractions. This is because the heart is also a muscle and it needs potassium to put off arrhythmias, which is anomalous heartbeat. A serving of one cup of couscous offers the body 19 mg of potassium, which is 39 per cent of the 3,500 mg of the mineral's daily requirement as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The presence of selenium allows couscous to offer several health benefits and thereby prevent diseases. These aspects of selenium are described here briefly. Despite being an essential and very important nutrient for our body, this trace mineral is rarely found in food sources. One serving of this staple food provides our body with over 60 per cent of our daily recommended intake of this trace mineral. This is why couscous is considered to be one food that is rich in selenium content. As far as human health is concerned, this trace mineral works as potent antioxidant that functions inside the blood vessels and helps to diminish formation of plaque as well as the harmful low density lipo-protein (LDL) cholesterol in the arteries and veins - especially on their walls. In this way, selenium helps to shield our body from developing grave and life-threatening health issues such as strokes, heart attacks and atherosclerosis.

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As discussed above, selenium is an essential trace mineral present in adequate amounts in couscous. This trace mineral offers various vital health benefits and also plays an important role in the body's metabolic pathways. In this way, selenium helps us to keep away from developing certain types of cancers. Findings of recent studies have related selenium deficiency in the body to augmented risks of developing prostate cancer. Intake of adequate amounts of selenium will help the body to develop anti-metastatic attributes and serve as a defensive shield against different types of cancer. While most studies so far have focused on the link between deficit of selenium and development of prostate cancer, currently researchers are working to ascertain the relation between intake of selenium-rich couscous and prevention of various other forms of cancer. Some studies have claimed that consumption of couscous regularly also helps to reduce incidences of lung cancer and other carcinogenesis among smokers, especially when couscous is taken along with vitamin C and vitamin E.

Selenium possesses natural antioxidant properties that facilitate combating the propagation of free radicals as well as other toxic substances in our bloodstream as well as our body's different systems. In addition to these attributes, selenium has another unique property as it helps to boost the body's immune system. In fact, selenium works to promote regeneration of vitamin C and vitamin E in our body, thereby playing a vital role in strengthening the defence mechanism of our body. All things considered, couscous can prove to be a very potent addition to our body's defence mechanism against various ailments.

Selenium also contributes in helping develop our body's muscle mass. It has an important role in protein metabolism, thereby developing muscles. Findings of many studies have revealed that one of the main causes for suffering muscle degradation and weakness is deficiency of selenium in the body. In addition, deficiency of this trace mineral also results in general weakness of the body and unusual fatigue. Since it is very difficult to obtain selenium from natural sources, especially food sources, taking couscous on a regular basis can supply the body with requisite selenium and also enhance the muscle mass.

At times you may find it very difficult to recover from ailments and surgery or healing injuries as in such cases your body will have to work overtime not only to maintain the normal functions, but also to produce enough energy and divert significant amount of energy for your recovery. In such cases, couscous can prove to be of great help as it contains and provides the body with huge quantities of protein. Our body essentially requires sufficient protein to heal wound as well as recover from ailments. In addition, protein forms an integral part of the metabolic process, especially metabolizing enzymes, which facilitate internal as well as external wound repairs. In fact, 15 per cent of our body is composed of protein. Since couscous is a very potent constituent of any protein diet it is of great help in such conditions. For that matter, any food that is rich in protein content is valuable for our body to recover from ailments and heal wounds.

People who are on various types of diets usually try to find foods that are low in carbohydrate and calorie content. Most people prefer grains because they not only fulfill these two requisites, but are also easy to cook. Moreover, grains are filling. Couscous is similar to grains like rice and quinoa and is, in fact, superior to the other two grains. One cup of couscous contains below 200 calories, which is actually just 10 per cent of the daily recommended intake for an adult. This property of couscous makes it hugely useful for people who are trying to lose body weight primarily through diets. At the same time, the additional protein supplied by couscous helps to boost up muscle growth. Hence, if you too desire to diminish obesity and still want to remain healthy and fit, it is suggested that you try any couscous dish. The other advantages of couscous intake is that this food contains lower levels of cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat - which all try to thwart the efforts of lose weight. They are also harmful for our body.

Couscous is also rich in fiber content. Fiber works to restrict or reduce secretion of ghrelin in the body. Ghrelin is an hormone that is responsible for generating hunger. When the secretion of this hormone is reduces, it helps to prevent excessive food intake, thereby putting an end to the dangerous trend that causes people on diet to eat more and ruin their efforts to lose body weight.

A serving of one cup of couscous supplies the body with 10 per cent of the recommended daily fiber intake. Since couscous is rich in fiber content, consuming this food helps to promote digestion of other foods and keeps the gastrointestinal system healthy. Intake of sufficient fiber also facilitates bowel movements by adding bulk to it. Dietary fiber encourages peristaltic movement - contraction and relaxation of the muscles, thereby facilitating the movement of food in the digestive tract. Additionally, fiber works as a cleaner or scrapper of the arteries. It gets rid of the detrimental low density lipo-protein (LDL) cholesterol or "bad cholesterol" from the body. It also aids in the uptake as well as retention of the beneficial high density lipo-protein (HDL) cholesterol - also known as "good cholesterol" - in our body. Fiber also helps to ease or diminish the risks of developing constipation, which, in turn, helps to prevent several harmful conditions that affect the intestines - such as colorectal and stomach cancer.

Our body comprises over 90 per cent water. This is because it is important that there should be a fluid balance in our body cavities and different organs, as only then can our body function normally. Couscous contains fairly rich amounts of the essential mineral potassium which is needed to regulate the fluid as well as cellular pathways. Fluid balance plays a vital role in controlling the blood pressure all the way through our body and, in this way, it helps to diminish the risks of developing heart-related conditions like strokes, heart attacks and atherosclerosis. In addition, potassium also helps to maintain equilibrium in the uptake of nutrients and eliminate toxic substances, thereby helping the body to get rid of the unwanted and harmful substances through various ways.

As couscous contains an elevated level of protein, it is perfect for regulating the metabolism throughout our body. Protein is an indispensable part of the human body and it is present in our teeth, nails, hair, muscles, organs, bones and all naturally occurring chemicals as well as enzymes. When there is a deficiency of protein in our body, several organ systems start malfunctioning, which may result to several health conditions that may be potentially life threatening. Regular consumption of dishes prepared with couscous can help to avoid and ease many such conditions which may lead to complete shutdown of the organs due deficiency of protein in our body system. In fact, vegans and vegetarians, who usually don't take poultry products and meat, have a special preference for couscous as they are rich in protein content.

That couscous possesses the ability to boost the body's immune system to some extent has been scientifically proven. It has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that work to strengthen the immune system, thereby enabling the body to combat conditions like cold sores, herpes virus and shingles. This food is also effective in fighting the carcinogenic cells in the body.

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