As simple as couscous is, it can be a taxonomic challenge, since the word refers to both the ingredient and the finished dish that includes it. Couscous looks like a golden cousin of millet, but, in fact, it’s a tiny pasta made from semolina. A staple in Northern African cuisine couscous (the dish) consists of cooked couscous (the pasta), an assortment of vegetables, usually including chickpeas, often a star ingredient such as chicken, lamb, and/or spicy merguez sausage, and the broth everything cooked in. The dish is served in parts: the couscous pasta, the moistening broth and the chunky meats and vegetables with raisins, almonds, and harissa, a fiery red pepper paste, which are offered as condiments. Traditionally couscous (the ingredient) was cooked over steam and then repeatedly raked until each little granule was separated from its neighbors. It is a long process and one that demands not just patience, but practice. Today couscous is used in many untraditional dishes and it’s more popular, in part because a quick-cooking version is available on supermarket shelves. That is the type I use whether I’m making a big chicken couscous or a small side dish to accompany a chop.

Dorie Greenspan