Simple and superb handmade couscous from the southern Mediterranean
Written by Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s Co-founder
Have you ever tasted something so shockingly good that it makes you reframe everything else you ever thought about that product? I remember the first time I tried new harvest extra virgin olive oil right out of the press, or truly traditional balsamic vinegar in the attic right from the barrel, or an amazing, really ripe, super juicy Indian peach with bright red flesh one warm Monday afternoon in the autumn out on the Mendocino coast. All are flavors that have stayed with me for years, flavors that I still use as a frame of reference for everything else I eat that bears the same name.
The Mahjoub family’s couscous is one of the biggest culinary revelations I’ve had in the last twenty years (and that’s saying something). The couscous can be a main course, a side dish, or a salad. Top it with a simple tomato sauce, meat, fish, vegetables, poultry, or almost anything else. You can even add it to soups or stews. Cooked with milk, cinnamon and a bit of sugar, you have a porridge to take the place of rice pudding.
This handmade couscous comes to us from the Mahjoub family’s farm, about an hour outside of Tunis, in the small town of Tebourba. The family is truly passionate about all things Tunisian, and intent on bringing the word about their country’s incredible and special history to the world. All of the family’s products are organic. They grow the wheat for the couscous on the farm, mill it, and make the resulting semolina flour into couscous, rolling each small round by hand, then drying it naturally in the sun. M’hamsa actually means “by hand.” When you cook it, your whole kitchen will smell like wheat!
Couscous is basically a form of Berber (the native peoples of North Africa) pasta. It fit well with the old nomadic lifestyle, allowing them to transport and eat wheat regularly throughout the year. If you love pasta (as I do), you’ll love the couscous. It is truly a special food.
Aside from being a regular at our house for dinner, the Mahjoub’s couscous has become a regular for me on my gift giving list. Seriously, if you know anyone who likes to cook, give them a jar. If you really like them, add a jar of the Mahjoub’s equally marvelous harissa or a bottle of Onsa’s olive oil. They will thank you for many years to come. I’ve given the couscous to friends who are culinary professionals—people who work with great food for a living—as gifts dozens of times and I think that everyone has quickly confessed to being as addicted to the two as I am
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