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Whole wheat couscous is a tiny pasta made from milled and steamed whole grains. Many people prefer whole wheat couscous to couscous made from semolina flour for its added health benefits and taste. Traditionally a North African and Middle Eastern food, its origin is vague but it is now eaten around the world. Couscous makes a great substitute for rice in dishes like stir fries and curries, and meat or vegetable stews.
Semolina flour is made by grinding the inner part of a grain of durum wheat, called the endosperm. It is used to make a wide variety of pastas. To make couscous, the semolina is rolled into pellets and dusted with flour, then sieved and rolled again until the pellets are about the size of a pinhead. Whole wheat couscous is made from wheat flour, in which the bran is not removed like processed white flour, thus keeping nutrients intact. In Africa and the Middle East, the whole grain may be milled and steamed as couscous, especially in rural villages, and cooks from Berbers to Libyans have variations in preparation and serving of the dish.
Couscous offers a high food value for little cost, packed with B vitamins and folate. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest than processed ones because of their fiber content, and the protein in whole wheat couscous helps stave off hunger. In North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, it was traditionally made from millet, but now is usually semolina, wheat or barley. Whole grains are rich in phytosterols, which some studies show may lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood.
Whole wheat couscous can accompany dishes like stir fries and stews as a substitute for rice. Eaten plain or with milk, sugar, butter and spices, its protein content makes it a good breakfast food, and it is low in calories. It can also be used to make tabbouleh, a salad usually prepared with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, lemon juice and mint. Whole wheat couscous is a healthy side dish with any menu. A little saffron or turmeric in the cooking water will turn it a pleasing yellow color.
Cooks in Africa make couscous in a special two-tier steamer, but in Western kitchens, pre-cooked couscous is available that only needs to be reconstituted with boiling water. Whole wheat couscous can be purchased plain or flavored with herbs and spices, usually in the rice section of grocery stores. Because whole grain products contain oils that are not removed like highly processed foods, they should be refrigerated to prevent the oils from turning rancid.