Sweet Mesfouf is a Northwest African dish made using couscous steamed with olive oil and butter and served warm with nuts, raisins, dates and laban.
This post was originally shared as part of the MENA Cooking Club challenge. The club is no longer active.
Ever since I saw Mesfouf in UmmHamza's blog, I wanted to make it. So when the challenge was announced, I decided to try my hands at making Mesfouf with Couscous in the most traditional way.
What is Mesfouf?
Mesfouf is a Northwest African (aka Maghreb region) dish. The main ingredient used in Mesfouf is the traditional couscous which is steamed with olive oil and butter and sweetened with dates, nuts and raisins. As it is eaten warm or at room temperature with cold Laban aka buttermilk, it makes a perfect breakfast bowl. The very reason it is a popular Suhur option across the Maghreb region which includes Algeria and Tunisia.
But what kept me from trying Mesfouf sooner was that my pack of couscous had no instructions and the internet had vague solutions on what cooking method to use for each kind of couscous. Seems there are instant couscous and the more traditional ones. Thankfully, both my favourite Algerian bloggers were active on Instagram and I bombarded them with my questions and pictures of my steamer, couscous pack etc. They were so kind and patient in explaining and helping me get confident to try it. Thank you so so so much lapetitepaniere and Halal HomeCooking! I adapted and halved Halal Home Cooking's recipe.
What is Couscous?
Couscous translates to "well rolled" and is made by rolling durum wheat and semolina by hand which is now mostly replaced with a machine. Did you read Semolina? 🙂 Another strong reason for me to try this is because you all know I am a sucker for semolina! While you can check Wiki for more details about couscous, I like to direct you to a few websites that I found helpful. The article by The Spruce on What is couscous? is where you can start your lessons. Bon Appetite has listed the five common mistakes that you should avoid when using Couscous. And all experts agree that packaged couscous that is instant is not good, so please do not invest in them for this recipe.
How to cook Mesfouf Couscous?
Traditionally, couscous is prepared in a couscoussier that resembles a two or three-tier steamer vessel. I used my steamer but the holes on it were bigger, so I lined the pans with baking paper to prevent couscous from falling down into the water. The couscous mixture is allowed to soak in some water and is then steamed two to three times each time after giving it some water to soak up. The process is repeated until the couscous is soft and cooked through.
How does it taste? Well, very akin to durum wheat pasta or semolina etc. I find its texture and shape are what make it unique and like everything out there, quality matters!
Updated 6th October 2017
I made Mesfouf again for my weekday breakfast this week and used dates and black raisins along with almonds. Even this time, F did not favour it. 🙁
Here are the ingredients I used for making a bowl of Couscous which we had for Suhur (pre-dawn meal). Feel free to double the recipe to serve more than two bowls.
Mesfouf Recipe | Steamed Sweet Couscous
For steaming Couscous:
- ½ cup traditional couscous (not instant)
- ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter or ghee, divided
- 1 cup of water, divided
- 5 to 8 dates, pitted and chopped roughly
- 1 tablespoon of golden or black raisins
- salt to taste
For serving Mesfouf:
- a handful of nuts (almonds or walnuts or pistachios), roasted
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
- a dash of orange blossom water or rose water
- choice of sweetener - honey, sugar, etc
- chilled laban (buttermilk) (optional)
- Heat enough water in the steamer pot over medium heat and place the basket on top and allow the water to come to a simmer. If the holes of your steamer basket are bigger than mine, then care to line the vessel with baking paper.
- In a bowl add the couscous, two teaspoons of olive oil and ¼ cup of cold water. Mix using a fork and let it rest until all of the water is absorbed.
- Transfer the couscous mixture to the steamer basket, leave the steamer uncovered and allow to steam for 10 minutes.
- Carefully transfer the couscous back into the bowl, and stir in half of the butter, salt and ½ cup of water. Allow it to rest until water is absorbed.
- Transfer the couscous back into the steamer basket and steam for another 10 minutes.
- Once again, empty the steamed couscous back into the same bowl and mix in the remaining oil, raisins, dates, and ¼ cup of water. Allow it to rest until water is absorbed.
- Put the couscous mixture back into the steamer basket and steam for another 10-12 minutes. The couscous should be soft but not wet.
- Empty the fully steamed couscous mixture into a large bowl, mix in the remaining butter, orange blossom water, some honey and the roasted and chopped nuts.
- Spoon the prepared Mesfouf into serving bowls and sprinkle with cardamom powder, scatter the remaining nuts and drizzle honey to taste.
- Serve Mesfouf with laban or buttermilk (recommended) or it can be had as is.
- Refrigerate any leftovers for 3 to 4 days but should be steamed for 5 to 8 mins before consuming.
You can check some more North African recipes or try some of my favourite Middle Eastern food recipes.
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You can find me on Instagram at @butfirstchaai.