Low-carb couscous: in our constant quest to find ways to make regular-tasting meals with lower carb content, we have been experimenting with couscous for the past few months in the same manner as we worked on rice.
We find couscous to be a grain that is not as spiky as white rice or regular pasta. I am not sure why that is, since pasta comes in larger chunks that would seem to take longer to digest. But, for some reason, we don’t spike as much with couscous. So we thought it would be a good grain to experiment with and see if we can make it to spike even less.
One property we really like couscous for is that we can cook it with a lot of vegetables, add some limited amount of beans, a great sauce, some good meat then mix—the result is always good. Since we can use a lot of veggies and some beans, we don’t need a huge amount of meat (or the fat that comes with it), so there never is a secondary spike (unless you use too many beans, which may cause one since they have a low glycemic index). So, inherently, couscous allows us to make meals that are easier to dose for.
In the same way as for rice and bread, we first experimented by trying whole wheat couscous. It was interesting: we had expected a much worse taste, but, in fact, the taste was, we thought, nuttier and better, and the consistency was similar. On the other hand, we did not see a significant difference in spiking! Still, we thought that it could only lead to less spiking with whole wheat couscous. What we found easily accessible, for us, is Trader Joe’s whole wheat couscous:
One pound goes a long way
The next step was to try and accommodate the couscous in a way where we could make it lower carb. The normal instructions are to simply add salt and 1 volume of water per volume of couscous, then cook it in a microwave oven for the required amount of time. We found that this creates a very sticky couscous, nothing like the Moroccan restaurant couscous.
So, the first step was to find a way to make the right consistency. After a lot of experimenting, we figured out a solution: you first add hot water to the couscous, wait 5 minutes to let it absorb the water, then cook it in the microwave. If you fluff it right after it comes out of the microwave, this makes a huge difference: instead of making a sticky meal, it creates delicious grain, separate and wonderful, neither too wet not too dry, a perfect consistency that you can make even better by adding olive oil and mixing before eating.
The next step was to make it lower carb. At that stage we wondered—what happens if we add more water than required? This is where our solution to the previous problem helped. We found that if you let the hot water absorb for a while before cooking the couscous, the couscous will take on a lot more water—the soaking step allows you to keep the grain nice and fluffy. The consequence is that, for equal weight of couscous, you get a lot fewer carbs per portion!!!
So, in the end, here is our final recipe and carb count:
- measure 62 grams of whole wheat couscous (that’s what the manufacturer calls one serving)
- add 170 ml of water (1 equal volume of water would be 80 ml, i.e. 80 grams)
- add a pinch of salt
- microwave for 1 minute, using a container where steaming water comes back into the food (we use a microwave steamer by Systema for that)
- let rest for 5 minutes, or until all the water gets absorbed (if it doesn’t, microwave a little more)
- fluff with a fork, then even out the surface
- microwave for 75 seconds
- immediately fluff well with a fork, add 1 tablespoon of olive, fluff well again: be sure to break up all the clumps.
Then serve right away! Because it is wetter than the original recipe, it will tend to clump a bit if you wait too long to serve it. So better wait until dinner is almost ready before you make the couscous.
One manufacturer’s serving would normally consist of these 62 grams of couscous to which you add 80 grams of water (1 volume), after which you may get about 134 grams of goods (we lose a bit over 10% of water to steam). With our process, we get about 215 grams of final product, which produce 2 servings for us. If, instead of using a mostly sealed steamer, we use a plastic microwave dome over the dish, we only get 205 grams of final product.
Nutrition: if you count 2 servings for the final product, nutrition info is 22 carbs including 3.5 grams of fiber, and a total of 170 calories, of which 60 come from the olive oil. This would compare with 44 carbs including 7 grams of fiber and 220 calories, all of them from carbs, for the original recipe.
We always eat couscous with a tajine recipe (we have many to pick from) that includes a bunch of vegetables, spices, sauce, some beans or chick peas (both pulses), and some meat. We do not spike with the final combination. Let me know if this works for you too!