Couscous, Polenta & Millet


I was setting up to photograph my wild millet or kabog that I purchased in Cebu last week when I realized I should include some other grains/starches that I also had handy. I grains2have been trying to broaden our base of starches away from just white rice and in stock in the pantry, among other grains/pastas were some couscous, cornmeal or polenta, and of course, the millet or kabog. Couscous is actually a mixture of semolina granules or flour that is made by adding salted water to a bowl of semolina flour and rubbing it against the side of the bowl until this small balls or blobs are formed they are then dried (according to Alan Davidson). Couscous is a pasta of sorts that isn’t kneaded and it steams up nice and fluffy. I like its texture as a change from the everyday white or brown rice that we tend to eat like clockwork. The granules are best steamed in a couscoussier (which I do not have) but I find they do just fine in a regular pot on the stove… A staple in Northern Africa, couscous goes great with saucy tagines or stews and with lots of spice in the form of harissa. The best movie scene I can think off where the actors are eating couscous is in the modern version of “Sabrina” where Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond are eating their couscous with their hands in a Moroccan restaurant in New York City…

I also had cornmeal or the makings of polenta in stock. Polenta is made grains3of ground flint corn and is predominantly made in Italy and comes in coarse and fine grades. The corn has been hulled and de-germed and has a long shelf life, according to Rebecca Wood’s book on grains. Polenta is a staple in Northern Italy and frankly, until recently, I always thought of it as a tasteless, sludgy yellow mass that would sit in one’s stomach like a brick. However, with the right pairing of meat or stew it can be fantastic. Traditionally, polenta is made in an unlined copper kettle called a paiolo and cut with a string (according to Ms. Wood), though I have made it very well with a heavy enameled pot without much effort at all. More interesting for me than the mushy freshly made polenta is the grilled polenta or even fried polenta.

Finally, the last of the three sources of starch that I photographed today was millet. For most of my life, millet equaled birdseed. I didn’t realize grains4that millet is a major humanly edible grain globally and comes from a family of grasses that has hundreds of varieties. For humans, most millet is of the genus Panicum and our own millet is probably closer ( I am guessing) to foxtail millet that grows abundantly in southern China and in other hot arid climates. Millet is an extremely nutritious seed (with niacin, thiamin, phosphorous and zinc besides the proteins) and a great source of protein. Apparently millet spoils relatively quickly so you should buy it fresh and use it within a few weeks of purchase…coming up soon will be posts on the local millet (kabog) that I purchased and my attempts to cook budbud kabog without a recipe to guide me (I haven’t figured it out yet, despite three separate attempts!)…


12 Responses

  1. Believe it or not that scene with the cous-cous was filmed directly across the street from us at Vivolo, transformed through a change of awning and seating. The evening it was filmed all of the neighborhood turned out on the street to gawk and it was the closest thing a block party this street ever had…
    Why don’t you ask the lady with the yellow jeep at Salcedo market how her staff makes bud-bud kabog?

  2. I love couscous and polenta although I can never seem to get the latter creamy like I have had in some restaurants. Any pointers? Recently I had “Mac and cheese” at Cirkulo made with what the menu called an “israeli pearl couscous”. It had the consistency of pasta or orzo rather than the normal couscous . I have been trying to figure out if it was indeed an actual grain or they simply used the term couscous because of its shape and now I realize that it probably is a pasta of sorts! How informative! Are you familiar with this pearl couscous?

  3. couscous is also nice as a salad/ appetizer. . . yummy. What i really don’t like is pearl couscous, it has a “sago” like size and can be hard if you don’t know how to cook it, i still prefer the regular couscous. . . for polenta, adding veggies to flavor it makes it nice and grilling it also gives it a nice flavor its good for tomato based stews. . . yummy

  4. hello Mr.Markerman! Very informative post =) I have always wanted to try couscous whenever I’m in a Mediterranean resto..but never had the “guts” to do so. Besided stews what kind of dish goes along well with it? (I’m not really fond of stews) Btw, I love that scene in Sabrina as well….makes eating on the floor with your hands so romantic! hahaha

  5. you might also want to look into Quinoa:

    “Quinoa was of great nutritional importance within pre-columbian Andean civilizations, being secondary only to the potato, and followed in third place by maize. In contemporary times this crop has come to be highly appreciated for its nutritional value, and the United Nations has classified it as a supercrop for its very high protein content (12-18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete foodstuff. This means it takes less quinoa protein to meet one’s needs than wheat protein. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is also gluten free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered as a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long duration manned spaceflights.”

    i was surprised to find it at healthy options in shangri-la mall. very similar to couscous in texture but you cook it just like rice

  6. I too like couscous a lot and it’s really easy to cook. It pairs well with saucy dishes. I haven’t tried making polenta. That is more my husband’s area of expertise. I prefer the “mushy” polenta to the fried version. I’m curious as to the outcome of your budbud experiment. I haven’t found budbud in Manila that is as delicious as the ones I had in my early childhood in Cebu.

  7. MM,

    That’s the millet that they have here in Korea! They usually add millet to their boiled rice here and makes it so delicious! I wonder what else can I fix millet with?

  8. Sister, I asked but didn’t get a recipe… have tried 4x to make the budbud but haven’t gotten it right yet…it’s like the current holy grail of marketman… For all those who are curious (Blance, venchie, et al), I get my polenta and couscous at Santis Delicatessens and I have also seen it sometimes at Rustans groceries and other food shops. They aren’t that pricey in case you are intimidated to try some of this stuff. Finding the kabog is another story…it was like finding a needle in a haystack! Carol and Wilson, I haven’t tried pearl couscous yet. Carol, you have to boil the water, then add the cornmeal slowly and stir constantly. Butter at the end is critical and don’t overcook… Jen Tan, you can make couscous into a cold side dish or salad by adding lots of chopped tomatoes, basil and herbs and a nice vinaigrette. Anonymous Paul, I have read up on quinoa, will have to try that as well. Doddie, millet discussions coming soon…

  9. Are couscous and polenta in Santi’s cheaper than the ones in Healthy Options? I saw that episode too when Giada just shaved some parmesan over the fried polenta…yum yum. I remember eating loads of fried polenta in Sao Paulo, I ate it with meat sauce and cheese…so instead if fries I used them on fried polenta.



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