He was paired with Miller as Smith abandoned the single-striker formation he has used in recent Old Firm encounters, but there was no place even on the bench for last season's top scorer, Kris Boyd.
The more positive formation appeared to catch the home side unawares in the opening minutes with a couple of crosses whipped into the box, but a Celtic defence with fit-again Gary Caldwell replacing Glenn Loovens at its heart dealt with the threat fairly comfortably.
As the reigning champions' greater width began to pay dividends, Stephen McManus headed a Nakamura free-kick just wide of the far post.
The game threatened to boil over with Rangers' Kevin Thomson, for a late challenge on Nakamura, and McManus, for a spot of petulance, both being booked before 15 minutes had elapsed.
Celtic threatened twice in even quicker succession as the action heated up in a more positive manner.
Samaras, starting up front alongside Shaun Maloney with Vennegoor of Hesselink and Scott McDonald not fit enough to start, headed straight at Allan McGregor from 15 yards and Aiden McGready flashing a drive a few yards wide from longer range.
Samaras had pulled Celtic level at 1-1 before the break
But Rangers took the lead after 37 minutes against the balance of play when Cousin skinned Mark Wilson, standing in for the injured Lee Naylor at left-back, and fooled goalkeeper Boruc by tucking the ball inside the front post from a tight angle.
The lead lasted less than two minutes, Sasa Papac's awkward attempt to clear a low McGeady cross falling kindly for Samaras to fire home from eight yards.
Maloney was first to threaten after the break, his quick feet creating the space for a drive curled wide from 16 yards.
But it was Rangers who struck after 52 minutes when Miller, who had been having a disappointing game against his former club, volleyed home superbly after being found at the back post by a Charlie Adam cross.
Mendes put Rangers in command when he flashed a drive past Boruc from 25 yards after being found in space by a clever Adam corner 10 minutes later.
Cousin's continual aerial jousts appeared to test the patience of referee Dougie McDonald and earned the striker a second yellow card with quarter of an hour remaining.
But Celtic's one-man advantage lasted a matter of seconds as Vennegoor of Hesselink was sent off for lashing out at Kirk Broadfoot immediately after coming on as a substitute.
And Miller made sure that the blue half of Glasgow will have the bragging rights - at least until the next Old Firm derby - by slotting home after Boruc spilled a Broadfoot cross after 79 minutes.
Nakamura's trademark free-kick in stoppage time could not douse the Rangers celebrations.
Celtic: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson (Hutchinson 84), Nakamura, Hartley (Robson 72), Scott Brown, McGeady, Maloney, Samaras (Vennegoor of Hesselink 72).
Subs Not Used: Mark Brown, Crosas, Loovens, O'Dea.
Sent Off: Vennegoor of Hesselink (76). Booked: McManus, Samaras.
Goals: Samaras 39, Nakamura 90.
Rangers: McGregor, Broadfoot, Weir, Bougherra, Papac, Davis, Pedro Mendes, Thomson, Adam (Novo 78), Cousin, Miller.
Subs Not Used: Alexander, Edu, Dailly, Lafferty, Niguez, McMillan.
Sent Off: Cousin (75). Booked: Thomson, Cousin, Adam, McGregor, Broadfoot.
Goals: Cousin 37, Miller 52, Pedro Mendes 62, Miller 79.
Ref: D McDonald
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Rangers' Pedro Mendes, 7.22 (on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.
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