"It seems that the word couscous is a Gallic version of "rac keskes," which means "crushed small"
--Leon Isnard

"A handful of couscous is better than Mecca and all its dust"
--Moroccan proverb, cited by E. Westermarch, meaning that charity at home is more pleasing to Allah than going on a hadj

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This superb and cranky grain-pellet can be made out of just about anything: green wheat, barley, corn, millet, crushed rice, even sprouts. But it's best known and loved as a product of buckwheat semolina.

Stories abound as to the derivation of its name. Yes, maybe rac keskes. But then there's the story about it coming from the French becquetee, or "pecked at"--meaning that it's like the food a bird takes in its bill and rolls into pellets to feed to its young. And others say it's onomatopoetic, the sound of it cooking in the special couscousiere pot, where the steam of the lower pot squeaks through the holes of the top pot holding the grain. This last needs a good imagination, to my mind.

Properly made, this grain is fabulously tasty, with a nutty bite and texture. But it is cranky, wadding up into a horrible and heavy ball if not steamed, handled, and oiled with dexterity.

Although "real" couscous can and should be bought to make classic North African couscous dishes; and although the "precooked" or "instant" versions sold in boxes in the supermarket are really pretty bad--I nevertheless recommend these latter to make soup. MUCH easier, MUCH faster, and very very good.