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Articles - Gourmet Pleasures:

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Historically made by hand – today
an industrial product

Couscous, bulgur and polenta look rather similar – small yellowish grains – but it’s good to know how they’re produced and especially the different ways of cooking with them.


Couscous is one of the staples of north African. It’s made from wheat, barley or millet. Traditionally the milled grain was soaked in water, rolled between the hands to form tiny balls and then dried in the sun. Today most of the couscous is made in a factory and sold as a convenience product – you simply pour boiling water or stock over it, let it swell for a couple of minutes and then stir in a little butter before whisking it onto the table.

Cooking with bulgur and couscous

Bulgur comes from the Near East and is usually made from durum wheat – the kind used to make pasta. The wheat grains are soaked, steamed, dried and then only are they coarsely milled. Like couscous, bulgur needs no cooking, you just soak it briefly in hot water or stock.


Couscous and bulgur both taste slightly nutty, so that they’re an interesting – and quick – alternative to side dishes like potatoes, pasta and rice. Serve them with meat, seafood and fish. Stuff aubergines, tomatoes and peppers with them or use them as the basis for salads or patties. Tabouleh, a popular Lebanese dish, is a bulgur salad with tomatoes, parsley and mint. In Turkey you might be served tiny meatballs with bulgur as an hors d’oevre. Or conjure up a dessert by mixing warm couscous with raisins, pomegranate seeds, dates, toasted almonds and cinnamon.

Polenta: tasty import from Italy

Polenta is made from maize which is precooked and then milled either very coarsely of more finely. Some polenta is sold ready to eat, other types have to be cooked. Polenta tastes heavenly simply with butter and parmesan, but you can also serve it as a side dish with meat, mushrooms and salads, or as a topping in gratins.


All three of these grains are a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Store them in a dry, dark and relatively cool place in tightly closed, opaque containers.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de