The couscous cousins

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

This summer, my husband and I are taking our first journey to Israel, where we will celebrate 25 wonderful years of marriage.  As typical first-timers, we have selected a semi-private tour to guide us through the country’s rich history and spectacular highlights. Thirteen days may not be sufficient to take in all the glory of the land, but we will certainly make the most of it!

As a picky eater with several allergies, cuisine from another part of the world may present a challenge.  In general I like hummus and tabouleh, fresh vegetables and fish, so I am fairly confident I will survive off the bounty that Israel has to offer.  One thing that has always been a source of curiosity, however, is the difference between couscous here in the United States and so-called Israeli couscous.

As it turns out, there are an abundance of differences, subtle though they may be.  In St. Louis, couscous is dried prior to cooking.  In Tel Aviv, chefs toast it in an open flame, which seems to impart a savory nut-like flavor.  Experts consider these 2 grains to be cousins rather than identical.  Traditional couscous is steamed before it is served, whereas in Israel the process of cooking is boiling, more closely resembling the preparation of pasta.

The Hebrew word for couscous is p’titim, which translates to our word “crumbles”; this aptly describes the food you will enjoy in Jerusalem.  If you are at all familiar with farfel, which is prepared as egg noodle dough and broken into small pieces, you most likely are able to conjure up a fairly accurate visual image.

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Despite being considered an “ancient grain” here in the States, couscous is fairly new on the Israeli culinary scene, most likely making an appearance in finer restaurants some time in the 1990’s. Israeli couscous plays a dominant role in the recipes of Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish cuisines.  A very healthy side dish, this tiny but mighty grain is free from sodium and saturated fat, contains fiber, and even a bit of protein.  

I hope to have an opportunity to sample Israeli couscous while we are traveling. If I find it appealing, I may incorporate it as part of my pre-workout fuel each morning!