Make your very own couscous

Home made couscous with vegetarian stew

Couscous is generally something that many of us believe comes out of a packet, and is hydrated by adding boiling water. While there is some value to the instant packet version, once you have tasted home-made couscous, it’s hard to go back. The texture of this home-made couscous is like snow: It melts in your mouth.

Dina, who took care of my children for several years, thought me this method – it’s not the original hand rolling method which takes hours and hours, but it is more effort than opening a bag and adding water. But I do believe it’s well worth it. You will have to buy a couscous sieve, which costs about 15 shekels and is available at any low-end kitchen supply store all over Israel. (I’m not sure where it’s available abroad.)

She also taught me to make the stew that goes with the couscous. It can be made vegetarian or with meat. I prefer the former, as it’s more flexible, can be served as a hearty side dish in both dairy and meat meals, and makes vegetarians extremely happy. For this stew, you will need two very Middle Eastern spices – hawaij and bezar. Both can be bought at any spice store in Israel. To find them abroad, I would scour health food stores or specialty stores that stock Middle Eastern products. For those who are extremely determined, here are links to how to make you own hawaij and bezar. Prepare the stew before you prepare the couscous. You can also serve the stew on rice.

So prepare yourself for a bit of patchke, but from my experience, it’s well worth it.



1 kg of chicken pieces (washed), lamb pieces or beef (optional)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large roughly chopped onion

200g tomato paste

2 tablespoons chicken soup powder

1 teaspoon hawaij

1 teaspoon bezar

3-4 potatoes cut up

Cut the vegetables to pieces that are more or less this size

About 300g pumpkin cut into large chunks (the pumpkin tends to fall apart in the stew. If you don’t want it to, leave the skin on but make sure it’s washed very well)

4 carrots cut into chunks

3 stalks of celery cut up

1 sweet potato cut up

2 large zucchinis cut up

1 small can of hummus beans drained and rinsed

3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

How to do it

1. Fry onion in the oil until golden

2. Add tomato paste, hawaij, bezar and chicken soup powder to make a paste.

3. Add the rest of the vegetables, coriander and add boiling water so the liquid just covers the vegetables. Cook for 45 minutes-1 hour, or until the carrots and potatoes are soft.

If you are making the stew with meat, after step 2, add the meat and boiling water to the level of the meat, and bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour. The proceed to step 3 (adding the veggies).

Serve with the couscous. 



1 kg semolina (you’ll find it next to the flour in the supermarket)

5 cups boiling water

2/3 cups oil

2 tablespoons chicken soup powder

How to do it

1. Put the water, oil and chicken soup powder in a large pot and bring to the boil.

2. Add the semolina while stirring. Mix well until all the semolina is mixed into the liquid. (It will look lumpy)

3. Reduce the heat to low and let the dough steam for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes (make sure the dough doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and try to separate large chunks into smaller chunks)

4. Place the couscous strainer over a large bowl (if you are going to serve it immediately, use a metal bowl or place the strainer over a large piece of foil) and with a large serving spoon, spoon some of the dough into the sieve and run the spoon over the dough, pushing it through the strainer. You can also use your hand to get it through the strainer, but the dough is hot… Do not force any hard bits through – just throw them away.

Straining the semolina dough through the strainer - you can use your hands as well

5. Cover until you serve the meal. You can reheat in the microwave or you can cover the couscous in an aluminium container and heat it on a hot plate (platta).