Toasting couscous grains and using broth deepens the flavor

  • This undated photo provided by America's Test Kitchen in December 2018 shows Simple Couscous with Dates and Pistachios in Brookline, Mass. This recipe appears in the cookbook "Complete Mediterranean." (Daniel J. van Ackere/America's Test Kitchen via AP)

Couscous is one of the fastest and easiest side dishes to prepare. A staple in Morocco and other North African countries, it is traditionally served under stews and braises to soak up the flavorful sauce. But because it often plays sidekick, the grain is too often left bland and unexciting.

We knew it had the potential to be a quick and tasty dish, and we were determined to develop a classic version for saucy dishes as well as a handful of flavor-packed variations that would make convenient stand-alone sides. We found that toasting the couscous grains in olive oil before adding liquid deepened their flavor and helped them cook up light and separate.

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And to bump up the flavor even further, we replaced half of the cooking water with broth. After just 7 minutes of steeping, the couscous was fluffy, tender, and flavorful enough to stand on its own while also ready to accompany any sauce with which it was paired.

For our dressed up variations, dried fruit, nuts, and citrus juice added textural interest and sweet, bright notes.

Simple Couscous

Servings: 6

Start to finish: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups couscous

1 cup water

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Salt and pepper

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in water, broth, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover, remove saucepan from heat, and let sit until couscous is tender, about 7 minutes. Gently fluff couscous with fork and season with pepper to taste. Serve.

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Simple Couscous with Dates and Pistachios:

Increase oil to 3 tablespoons. Add 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom to saucepan with couscous. Increase water to 1 1/4 cups. Before serving, stir in 3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pistachios, 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice.

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