I have been on a couscous bender lately. But not the fine, granular couscous that we often see in Middle Eastern dishes. I’ve been obsessing over Mediterranean couscous, also called Israeli couscous or grande couscous. These are tiny little balls of cooked semolina pasta which plump up when cooked into toothsome, chewy slightly less tiny balls of pasta. The brand I have been using of late is Marrakesh Express, and they describe their couscous grande as “creamy pearls of pasta,” which I wish I made up, but I didn’t.
Regular couscous is nice, but I’ve never fallen in love; I know there are lots of fans out there. This bigger version is great stuff. I’ve been making variation after variation, and the following is a variation that I made recently, and the one that my friend Abby harassed me daily for a week to write down. She really did, and she also said the harassing wouldn’t stop until she got the recipe. See how good it is? Or maybe she’s just really really persistent. Or both.
This is an infinitely flexible recipe, and with water or vegetable broth (and no bacon - duh) is vegetarian. I made a veggie version last night which served as the main dish for my vegetarian friend, and a side dish for everyone else. Throw in whatever ingredients/flavors you have and like. The ingredient list is SO flexible - use onions or shallots instead of garlic (less garlic, more onion). You can skip the bacon or the peppers or the feta or the olives, or even two of them for a simpler dish. The scallions at the end are mostly for show (though they do add a nice flavor), so they are quite optional.
You can add chunks of cooked chicken, or shrimp, to make it a main course, or use it as a bed for sliced steak or a filet of salmon.
As a bonus, it’s kind of funny to see little kids chase the little pasta balls on their plates with a fork. If you want to be nice, you could give them a spoon, but it’s not as much fun to watch.
Here’s the recipe, it serves 10 as a side dish.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 large shallots, minced
3 cups (1 20.5 ounce canister) couscous grande or Israeli cousous (such as Marrakesh Express)
6 1/2 cups water or broth (chicken or veggie)
2 roasted peppers, peeled, seeded and sliced (see Note)
1 cup feta, crumbled and rinsed
1/2 chopped roughly chopped pitted olives, such as calamata
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
handful fresh chopped herbs (such as thyme, basil and/or oregano)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon (optional)
In a large saucepan over medium high heat, heat the butter and the olive oil, then add shallots and sauté until softened and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the couscous and sti for 3-4 minutes until the couscous is coated with the shallot mixture and starting to lightly brown. Add the water or broth and
stir well. Stir in the peppers. Cover and cook for 12 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Reove from the heat and let sit, covered for 5 minutes until the rest of the liquid is absorbed.
Fold in the feta and olives until well blended. Then add the lemon juice, zest, and herbs and mix gently until well blended. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Turn into a shallow serving bowl and sprinkle the scallions and bacon on the top. Serve warm or room temperature.
Note on roasting peppers: Super simple. Preheat the broiler or a grill. Take a whole pepper. Place it under the broiler or on the grill. As the side facing the heat bubbles and starts to blacken, turn the pepper to the next side. After about 4 turns, and 8 minutes, the whole pepper should be blistered. Take pepper, put it in a bowl, cover it with a dishtowel and let it steam. After about 5 minutes take off the dishtowel, and when it’s cool enough to handle, peel of the skin, and pull it apart so you can remove the seeds and core. Save as much of the flavorful juice as you can. Ta da, roasted pepper.
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