BY VICTORIA WANG ’20
A mixture of starch, legumes and protein layered in a Tagine pot, couscous — a hearty, avorful Moroccan stew — is an all-time favorite home dish for Sara Harda ’19.
Couscous can be varied in a number of ways. “The diversity of couscous stems from the variation of sauces, spices, vegetables and meats that can go with it,” Harda said. Couscous offers a great space for creativity, she noted, and great chefs across the world have mixed in their tastes, ideas and their own cultural experiences when creating the dish.
As much as the recipes vary, they all incorporate an essential ingredient: couscous, a mix of assorted cereals, from which the dish gets its name. The making of this cereal mixture “remains a meticulous cooking [process] based on speci c rules codi ed by centuries of practice,” according to Harda.
“In order to make an authentic North African couscous, four fundamental cooking steps need to be followed,” said Harda. The four steps involve grinding wheat and barley cereals to obtain couscous semolina, rolling, sieving and drying couscous grains, steaming the grain mixture in a pot and, nally, coating these grains using olive oil, argan oil or butter.
Those outside the Maghrebi community may rec- ognize couscous as nothing more than a semolina dish decorated with vegetables. Harda, as a Maghrebi native, begs to differ. She sees a much more profound cultural context in couscous than just comfort on the palate.
“It is a living and multidimensional national reality in the Maghreb region,” said Harda. Placed at the heart of the Maghrebi cuisine, couscous is not merely a home dish but an emblem for hospitality and conviviality be- tween tribes and communities. “In Morocco, where I’m from, it is almost imperative to cook couscous for lunch every Friday, a tradition that has been going on for many years,” Harda explains. “Besides, it is always cooked during important events such as family celebrations, weddings, births, as well as various religious rituals. Couscous has always been one of the essential markers of the national and cultural identity of the countries in the Maghreb region.”
Couscous holds a special place in Harda’s personal life, as she often travels far from home. At age 16, Harda left home for the first time to participate in an exchange program in the U.S. For ten months straight, she had little contact with any element from her hometown. “It is funny that when I was a teenager, for some reason, I [went] through a ‘not a fan of couscous anymore’ phase,” said Harda. Yet on a day when her nostalgia peaked, she somehow craved to recreate this very dish in a foreign land. “I went to buy all the necessary ingredients and [cooked] it for my American host family. Since then, I began reclaiming my fan-hood of couscous, and today, I can’t picture a world without it,” said Harda.