Enjoy Algeria’s National Dish

Considered to be the national dish of Algeria, couscous is a versatile, nutritious and delicious staple food served in a variety of different ways. Couscous is so essential in everyday life for Algerians, that it is often referred to simply as Ta’ām, meaning ‘food’. Originating in North Africa, couscous is found on supermarket shelves around the world, with pre-cooked varieties putting this tasty ingredient on the table in 15 minutes. But many would argue that these forms of couscous, while being convenient for a busy household, cannot be compared with the original ingredient, which takes time, patience and effort to produce and is really a labor of love.

Couscous is generally made from semolina wheat and is traditionally done by the women of the household. A handful of freshly ground hard wheat is put on a large flat plate, with salted water and a bit of flour sprinkled on it. The woman will roll the grains with her palms until little granules are formed. These are then gently shaken through sieves with different diameter holes to ensure granules are of a similar size. Before being stored, the couscous is dried in the sun. Alternatively, it is cooked before the drying process.

To keep the granules separate and obtain a fluffy texture, couscous is best steamed. This is sometimes done over the stew or vegetables that will accompany the couscous. After ten to fifteen minutes the couscous will be removed from the steamer and given time to cool a little before olive oil or butter is added to ensure the granules remain separate. After being fluffed up by hand, the couscous is returned to the steamer for another ten to fifteen minutes. This may be done up to three times, but the experienced cook will know when it is just right to be served. This skill will be passed down from generation to generation.

Couscous can be served with vegetables, meat, fish, or tossed in a salad. It is also sometimes served as a sweet dish with butter, dates and hot milk, sprinkled with cinnamon. There are many ways to enjoy the national food of Algeria, and if you can only get pre-cooked couscous where you live, it is still worth adding to your menu. Be sure to try the traditionally prepared dish if you have the opportunity to explore Algeria.