Twice as Tasty

Pour-Over Cinnamon Couscous

Instant couscous becomes even easier to make on the go with the thermos full of boiling hot water

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

I first ate cinnamon-infused couscous while traveling in Morocco. I instantly loved that hint of flavor in the processed grain, whether it was also sweetened as a dessert or served under a savory stew. A little cinnamon is particularly effective with instant couscous, the type most Americans eat.

I’ve craved steamed and hand-rubbed couscous since my time in North Africa, but both the tiny semolina pasta used to make it and a couscoussière that isn’t designed for giant batches are difficult to find in the United States. Instant couscous can’t compete in texture with the traditional version, but it has the advantages of being widely available and ready in minutes.

Most package instructions and recipes make instant couscous on the stovetop, bringing it to a boil with water and then removing it from the heat and letting it sit for a few minutes. I find the individual grains clump less when I instead pour the boiling water over them. This has become my go-to method, not just at home but also when I’m keen to minimize fuel use in a campsite or sailboat cockpit. If you boil water and immediately pour it into a well-insulated thermos, it stays warm enough that you can make couscous anywhere.

This pour-over technique doesn’t work as well with larger pearl, Israeli or Lebanese couscous, which take longer to cook and are best simmered gently like rice. Toasting before simmering adds even more flavor to these larger couscous varieties; if you’re making stovetop instant couscous , try toasting it in a little extra butter before adding it to the boiling water, along with the cinnamon and salt.

Regardless of how you cook the couscous, always fluff it as soon as all of the water has been absorbed. Even pour-over couscous becomes clumpy if left untouched too long. It also tends to clump when cold, so the texture stays fluffiest if it’s cooked and served immediately.

Serve cinnamon couscous on its own as a side dish or mixed into a one-bowl main meal. I use the thermos technique to make a side of couscous while grilling fish and vegetables for lakeside barbecue picnics. Mix it with spicy sauteed vegetables for a hot dinner or chopped raw ones for a room-temperature salad, dotting both with chickpeas and crumbled feta for a full, vegetarian meal. The hint of cinnamon pairs with Maple-Glazed Carrots and other lightly sweetened dishes, dry-sautéed morel mushrooms and spicy seared shrimp.

Pour-Over Cinnamon Couscous

Makes about 2-1/2 cups

1 cup instant couscous

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1-1/2 cups boiling water

In a medium heatproof container with a lid, combine the couscous, butter, cinnamon and salt. Pour the boiling water over the grains and stir well. Cover and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to absorb the liquid. Immediately fluff the grains with a fork until they separate and serve or use in another recipe. One batch can serve four to six people.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.