Couscous: Unveiling Fascinating Facts about Morocco’s National Dish

Couscous, a staple food known for its versatility and rich cultural significance, is the national dish of Morocco. This humble grain has been nourishing Moroccans for centuries, playing an integral role in their culinary traditions.

Our team at Remitly created this guide as part of our series that celebrates the traditional foods of our global customers.

The History of Couscous in Morocco

Couscous traces its roots back to North Africa. It’s believed that the Berbers, indigenous people of this region, started preparing couscous as early as 7th century AD. Over time, it spread across the continent and became a beloved part of Moroccan cuisine.

The preparation method has remained largely unchanged over centuries. Traditionally, women would gather to hand-roll semolina into tiny granules—a labor-intensive process that often turned into a social event.

Ingredients and Preparation of Moroccan Couscous

Moroccan couscous is steamed until fluffy and light before being served with a variety of accompaniments.

A traditional Moroccan couscous dish often includes vegetables like carrots, zucchini, and turnips along with chickpeas or lentils. Meat—usually lamb or chicken—is also common. The ingredients are simmered together in a flavorful broth infused with spices such as saffron, turmeric, and cinnamon.

##Traditional Moroccan Couscous with Roasted Vegetables: A Recipe

Moroccan cuisine is celebrated for its rich flavors and unique cooking methods. This Moroccan couscous recipe is a harmonious blend of North African tradition and healthful benefits, promising to be a delectable side dish to any meal.

– 2 cups couscous (preferably semolina-based; for gluten-free, use quinoa)
– 3 cups vegetable broth (chicken broth can be used for non-vegetarian version)
– 1 zucchini, sliced
– 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
– 1 red onion, thinly sliced
– 1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
– 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 1 tsp turmeric
– 1/4 tsp black pepper
– 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
– 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
– 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
– 2 tbsp pine nuts (optional for garnish)
– 1 tsp coriander, ground
– Salt to taste

Nutritional Information (approximate):
– Carbohydrates: good source
– Potassium: adequate quantity
– Calcium: moderate content
– Vitamin C: found in bell peppers and lemon juice
– Vitamin A: present in sweet potatoes and red bell pepper
– Cholesterol: low


  1. Prep Time: 15 minutes

– Start by prepping your veggies. Wash and chop all the veggies as per the ingredient list.

  1. Cooking the Veggies:

– In a tagine or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
– Sauté the red onion until translucent.
– Add the zucchini, red bell pepper, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas.
– Sprinkle in the ground cumin, turmeric, coriander, black pepper, and some salt. Stir well and let the veggies roast until they’re soft and slightly caramelized, about 10-12 minutes.

  1. Cooking the Couscous:

– In a separate large bowl, pour the dry couscous.
– In a saucepan, bring the vegetable (or chicken) broth to a boil and pour it over the dry couscous. Cover with a lid or cling wrap and let it sit for about 5 minutes.
– Once the cook time is done, use a fork to fluff the couscous grains, ensuring they don’t stick together.

  1. Combining and Garnishing:

– Gently fold the roasted veggies into the couscous. Drizzle with fresh lemon juice.
– Garnish with fresh parsley, cilantro, and pine nuts.

  1. Total Time: 35 minutes

Serving & Storage:

  • This dish serves well as a side with Moroccan chicken or as a main for a vegetarian feast. For a variation, you can turn this into a couscous salad by letting it cool and adding some chopped fresh tomatoes and cucumber.
  • Israeli or pearl couscous can be used as a variation for a different texture.
  • If you need to reheat, it’s best done on the stovetop with a splash of broth to keep it moist.

Variations Across Regions

While couscous is universally loved in Morocco, regional variations exist. In coastal areas where seafood is abundant, you might find fish couscous on the menu.

In contrast, Berber couscous—popular in rural areas—often features more hearty ingredients like root vegetables and mutton. Regardless of the variation though, one thing remains constant: every version showcases local flavors and ingredients beautifully.

Traditional Serving Methods

Couscous is traditionally served in a large communal dish known as a ‘gssaa’. Everyone gathers around the gssaa, eating from their side of the dish—a practice that fosters closeness and community.

The couscous grains sit at the base of the dish, topped with vegetables and meat. The flavorful broth is then poured over everything right before serving. This method allows each diner to customize their portion according to preference.

While couscous is enjoyed regularly in Moroccan households, it takes center stage during special occasions. Weddings, birthdays, religious holidays—all are perfect occasions for serving this beloved dish.

During these celebrations, couscous becomes even more elaborate. It might be adorned with caramelized onions, raisins or even tfaya—a sweet and spicy condiment made from onions and raisins cooked down with cinnamon and honey.

FAQ about Couscous

Couscous or Quinoa?
Couscous and quinoa are both popular grain-like foods that are often used as a base for salads, side dishes, and main courses. However, they have distinct differences. Couscous originates from North Africa and is actually tiny semolina pasta pearls, while quinoa is a seed from South America, revered by the ancient Incas.

Nutritionally, quinoa packs more of a punch. It’s a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids, and is also rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

Couscous, while delicious, is primarily a carbohydrate source and doesn’t offer the same breadth of nutrients. Both are gluten-free in their natural form, but those with gluten sensitivities should be cautious as some couscous products may be processed in facilities that handle wheat.

Couscous: What’s in a Name?

“Couscous” might be a fun word to pronounce, but its etymology carries with it a rich tapestry of culture and culinary history. Derived from the Arabic term “kaskasa”, it essentially means “to pound small” or “to pulverize”, highlighting the traditional method of its preparation.

As for variant spellings, “cuscus”, “koskosi”, and “kuskus” have been spotted in various regions and texts, though “couscous” remains the most universally recognized.

More about Moroccan Cuisine

Moroccan cuisine is as diverse as its landscape—ranging from hearty mountain fare to delicate seafood dishes along its coasts.


Tagine is perhaps one of Morocco’s most iconic dishes—named after the conical clay pot it’s cooked in. This slow-cooked stew can feature various ingredients, including lamb, chicken, fish, or vegetables. The dish is often flavored with a blend of spices like cumin, coriander, and ginger.


Pastilla is a unique Moroccan dish that beautifully combines sweet and savory flavors. Traditionally made with pigeon meat (though chicken is more commonly used today), it’s encased in layers of thin pastry and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.


Harira is a popular soup in Morocco—especially during the month of Ramadan. It’s typically made from lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, and meat (usually lamb or beef), seasoned with a mix of aromatic spices.

Mint Tea

No discussion about Moroccan cuisine would be complete without mentioning mint tea. This refreshing beverage—often sweetened with generous amounts of sugar—is served throughout the day and plays an important role in Moroccan hospitality.

Moroccan cuisine offers an exciting culinary adventure—one filled with bold flavors, diverse ingredients, and time-honored traditions. Whether you’re savoring a bowl of couscous or enjoying a glass of mint tea, each bite (or sip) tells a story about this vibrant culture.

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