Weekday Vegetarian: A Different Kind of Couscous


Photo: Emma Alter

I first had couscous twenty-five years ago when my son was born. A friend brought over a huge pot of ratatouille so I wouldn't have to cook for a couple of days. Along with it came a little bag of stuff that was completely foreign to me. Luckily she included directions for making couscous, because I was clueless as to what to do with it.
I've made couscous many, many times since then. It's fast, it's easy, it's tasty and it's versatile. I was planning the menu for a dinner party, and it's been so hot here that I wanted something that I could serve at room temperature, so I thought of couscous. I came across a recipe that called for Israeli couscous. My grocery store had a brand that called it Jerusalem couscous, so I figured it must be the same thing. When I opened the package I felt like I was back in 1985, never having seen couscous before.

It's about the size of a peppercorn and although the directions on the package are the same as for regular couscous, the recipe I was using cooked it in an entirely different way. It swelled to about the size of a pea when cooked, and it is really chewy. My daughter found the texture too weird, but everybody else liked it. I felt a bit better when none of my guests had ever heard of this or eaten it before either. How is it that we have all missed this interesting version of a Middle Eastern staple?

I've left this recipe as written, using asparagus and peas, although that isn't what I made. I was already serving asparagus for my dinner party, and peas aren't in yet here, so I used some wilted spinach that I got from the farmers' market. You could use any kind of vegetables you like with this. For a vegan dish, just leave out the Parmesan cheese.

This recipe is from Bon Appetit, June 2010

Israeli Couscous with Asparagus, Peas and Sugar Snap Peas

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, minced, divided
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 1/3 cups Israeli couscous
1 3/4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
14 ounces slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut diagonally into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 cup shelled fresh green peas or frozen, thawed
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Whisk 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, and lemon peel in small bowl; set dressing aside. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add couscous, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until most of couscous is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups broth, increase heat, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 10 minutes, adding more broth by tablespoonfuls if too dry.

2. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add asparagus, sugar snap peas, green peas, and remaining garlic clove. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; sauté until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer vegetables to large bowl.

3. Add couscous to bowl with vegetables. Drizzle dressing over. Add chives and cheese; toss. Season with salt and pepper.

More Recipes to Serve with Couscous
Root Vegetable Tagine
Tomato and Bean Stew
Black Lentils with Apricot Couscous

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