Give us a kiskis

We love couscous. We’re not alone. Couscous is one of the staple foods of the Maghreb (western North Africa).

The word Couscous probably comes from the Arabic name for the perforated earthenware steamer pot used to steam the couscous: a kiskis.

Couscous isn’t a grain! It is made from semolina. You need patience and care to make prepare an authentic couscous…

Making couscous

  • Couscous is made by rubbing and rolling together large grains of hard wheat semolina with fine grains of semolina sprayed with salted water to humidify and bind.
  • It’s done in a large wood or aluminum platter called a gas3a or djefna. It is then sieved in three stages through sieves with progressively smaller holes called the kharaj, rafaḍ and tanay to form a uniform grain.
  • The couscous is then left for four or five days to dry in the sun on a white sheet.  It must be completely dry before storing.

  • Today modern North African couscous factories do all of this by machine, including the drying process. However…there are still some folk in Algeria including Bahia’s mum and her friends who make couscous from scratch.

Cooking couscous

  • In Algeria, couscous is always steamed and never boiled.
  • Couscous is steamed one, two, or three times depending on regional preferences and individual tastes. We always steam couscous twice – because that’s what Bahia’s mum taught her. See Bahia’s mum’s recipe.
  • Couscous is cooked in a cooking set called a kadra wa keskas, or couscousière in French. The top part fits tightly the bottom pan, and has holes for the steam to rise through to cook the couscous. In Algeria they are made of earthenware, aluminum or stainless steel.  You can make a makeshift couscousière by putting a colander over a pot. Make sure the boiled water doesn’t reach the bottom of the colander or you’ll will end up with a sticky mess!