“Cuscuz” is a very traditional Brazilian dish, based on a steamed ground corn (unlike the “couscous” more widely known in the US, made with semolina), typically served as a breakfast course, or as a part of a (fancy) supper. Depending on the region in Brazil, however, “cuscuz” can mean different things. In the Northeastern part of the country (where I grew up), cuscuz is a simple dish, made with nothing but cornmeal, water and salt, and served either with butter (and eggs) or with milk and sugar. In other parts, such as the Southeastern state of São Paulo, cuscuz (or the aptly named “cuscuz paulista”, where “paulista” is the adjective relative to that state) is a dish where the plain cuscuz is filled with vegetables, eggs and some meat (usually shrimp) – there’s one recipe on the Flavors of Brazil blog, one of my favorites for Brazilian cooking, written by a Canadian living in Brazil.
Cuscuz is very common (quite cheap, quick to make and nutritious), and in my house we used to have it a lot, and many times there would be leftovers. Since it could get dry if not eaten shortly after it’s made, reheated cuscuz wasn’t very sought after in our house, so we often used it to make “farofa” – instead of using the typical manioc / cassava flour, we’d use the dry cuscuz as the base of the recipe. It was a nice change, and depending on which seasoning was used (children tended to turn their noses to vegetables inside the “farofa”, and I wasn’t an exception) it could be a big hit. It can be used as a side dish accompanying any saucy meats or beans, since the dry cornmeal would be a greatly compliment to them.
Making cuscuz in the US has always meant going to a Brazilian store and buying the pre-cooked versions which we used back home. But this time I decided to try with “native” ingredients only, so I tracked the cornmeal package which resembled the most what we have – and found an organic, medium grind cornmeal which would be the subject of the experiment. So I mixed it with water and salt, cooked it in the “cuscuz pan” (a 2-part steamer, with a bottom part for water and a sieved top where the food goes, with a lid) for more than the usual 10 minutes after boiling (since it wasn’t pre-cooked), and the result… turned out quite dry. So the cuscuz experiment by itself didn’t work, but it turned out to be a great consistency for a “farofa”. And that’s where it started.
There’s no “right” recipe for a cuscuz farofa – as long as you use some butter and salt, the remaining ingredients are usually what is on hand. I typically like to use onions (well sautéed) and tomatoes, and this time I also added green onions. I only had 1 tomato, but another one would have been better (and given it a nicer color as well).
Ingredients (6 people):
- For the cuscuz:
- 2 cups medium-grind whole cornmeal
- 2/3 cups water
- salt (1-2 tsp.)
- For the farofa
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 tomato, chopped in ~1/4” pieces
- 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
- 2 tbsp. butter
- salt & pepper
Prepare the cuscuz: in a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients, then mix it well. Let it rest for 10 minutes, transfer it to a steamer, with water on the bottom, then cook it for 30 minutes after it starts boiling on medium heat. Remove from the heat and reserve. Once it cools off, fluff it with a fork (or your hands) to remove and large lumps.
Prepare the farofa: melt the butter in a medium, non-stick pan over medium heat, then add the onion and the green onions, salt and pepper, and sauté them until the onions start becoming golden. Add the tomatoes, season it a little more and cook it for 2 minutes. Finally add the cuscuz and mix it well, until the corn absorbs all the moisture from the tomatoes and it’s fluffy again.
Serve it with any saucy food (meat with sauce or beans) and enjoy!