Rarely you come across a recipe that is a real discovery, one that gives you a whole new perspective on something you thought you know. The gluten free couscous I am about to share is one of those gems.
Couscous is one of the best side dishes out there, it is the perfect bed for many hearty dishes and stews and can also be the base of warm and cold salads. And I’m not talking about instant couscous, the one that only needs some soaking in cold water, but about the real deal: made from scratch from raw grains.
The traditional north African couscous, be it from Morocco, Algeria, Libya or Tunis, calls for wheat semolina to be steamed, soaked and sifted in a very meticulous process, resulting in fluffy, delicate grains.
It is as a staple there as pasta is in Italy, with dozens of styles, methods and hundreds of years of tradition and costumes. It is also a staple in Israel, brought with the many Jews that came here from the Maghreb region.
One day, while researching for an article, I discovered that in south America, where wheat semolina was not always available, immigrants turned to corn meal to recreate the couscous they knew and loved. I did not find an exact recipe, but it inspired me to test the idea with some polenta meal I had at hand.
Gluten free couscous – the fast method
The method I used is also a shortcut: I got it from My uncle, David Nizry, whose both parents were born in Morocco. On one Shabbat dinner, he told me that there is a fast way to create fluffy couscous from scratch, without the hassle of steaming for hours in a fancy couscousier pot.
I applied his fast, rice pilaf like method to two types of polenta, and the result was out of this world: A gluten free, Passover approved (for Sephardic Jews) fluffy couscous that you have to try for yourself!
I tested a microwave and stovetop methods on coarse and fine polenta meals, and the recipe will work well grits and white polenta. Both methods are described below.
You start by coating 1 cup of polenta with 2-3 tablespoons of oil. This step is the most important in the recipe: skip it and you will never be able to fluff the couscous.
Once stirred and well coated, you add some salt and 1.5 cups of water. Then you either microwave or cook on the stovetop until the grains have absorbed all of the liquid and feel dry to the touch.
Then you need to let the mass rest for a bit so all of the starches will be set – then comes the final step that creates the couscous, aerating the cooked grain mass.
Two devices can do the job. First is a special couscous sieve (that you can buy in middle eastern shops or online). It looks like a tamis for sifting flour but with much larger holes and a strong metal mesh.
The second device is an electric food processor – where you pulse the cooked polenta meal until the fast-moving blades separate them to individual grains.
If you feel lucky, you can also try rubbing the lumps with your hands to separate them, but that takes way more time and practice.
>> goes wonderfully with Hamoosta cauliflower
Works just as wonderfully with white cornmeal/polenta 😉
Polenta / grits gluten free couscous recipe
- 1 cup cornmeal for polenta or grits (works with both fine and coarse ones)
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 scant teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1.5 cups water
When cooking on the stove top:
Place the cornmeal in a medium size pot.
Add the oil and salt and stir well, until all the grains are well coated.
Pour in the water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.
When a boil is reached, move to your lowest heat (you want the grains to steam).
Cover the pot and cook for 10-14 minutes, until the grains on the top of the pot feel dry to the touch (if the feel wet steam for a further 3-5 minutes).
Remove from the heat and allow to rest for 30 minutes or until cool enough to handle.
Move to a large bowl, stir to brake the mixture into small lumps.
Place the lumps in a food processor and pulse3-4 times until aerated and separated to individual grains. Alternatively, run the lumps trough a couscous sieve to separate them to individual grains.
Now you have couscous!!!
The prepared couscous keeps refrigerated 3-4 days and can be frozen (see notes)
Method when cooking in microwave:
Place the cornmeal, oil and salt in a microwave safe dish with a tight-fitting lid. Stir well.
Add the water, stir and close the lid.
Microwave on high for 5-7 minutes.
Take out the dish, remove the lid (carefully! hot steam)), stir well, cover and microwave for 5 more minutes.
Allow to cool, for 30 minutes or until cool enough to handle, then aerated as mentioned above.
- When making a double batch, the microwave does a better job.
- The prepared couscous freezes very well, lasting 6 months in the ice chest.
- The best way to reheat is using a microwave.
- You can switch the corn meal for wheat semolina for a classic couscous.
Photos by the talented Matan Katz