Monday, November 29, 2010

Israeli Couscous

Not one, not two, but THREE ways to make this side dish. I only started buying Israeli couscous recently; It came as a side dish to one of my 8 nights of chicken dinners post-baby! Yes, 8 straight nights of chicken. I assure you, I couldn't eat chicken for a while after that. Avi & I both loved it, so I started buying it. It's a wheat-based pasta, much larger than traditional fine couscous. There are many brands, but I opt for the Osem 21 oz. plastic container -with a red lid (I read somewhere that Osem was the first brand to make Israeli couscous, asked by Ben Gurion himself- I actually just validated that with the trusty Wikipedia :-). Sometimes it comes in boxes, with a plastic bag of the couscous inside, which you then have to reseal with a rubber band or what not, so this plastic container is just very convenient. FYI, Trader Joe's also sells boxed Israeli couscous! At a great price too. $1.99 I believe, and they provide the best way to prepare the couscous- toasting it as opposed to straight up boiling, which gives the couscous a much better flavor, and I highly recommend doing it this way. Basically, you add a tbsp. or 2 of olive oil to the bottom of a saucepan, add the couscous, essentially toasting, or "sauteing" it for 5 minutes. Then you add boiling water (I use a plug in kettle) gradually (follow whatever water to couscous proportions the box suggests), and salt, and simmer for 8-12 minutes. So here are 3 variations on "spicing up" this otherwise bland grain. 

1) Confetti Pesto Israeli Couscous
-1/2 a red onion, chopped
-1 cloves garlic, minced 
-1 zucchini, chopped small
-3/4 cup chopped eggplant
-1 carrot, chopped
-Homemade or store bought pesto (basic recipe below)

-Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add a pinch of salt & pepper
-Add the zucchini and eggplant & saute only a few minutes until softened. Add to the couscous
-Add the carrot
-Toss the couscous & vegetables with homemade or store bought pesto (I like to make my own, it's so easy especially in the mini food processor: blend 2 cups packed basil leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup walnuts or pine nuts, 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste)

 2) Israeli Couscous with Shallots & Wilted Spinach
-2 shallots, chopped
-2 cloves of garlic, minced
-3 cups chopped fresh spinach

-Saute the shallots and garlic in olive oil on medium-high heat until browned, about 5 minutes
-Add the spinach and a tsp. of salt (helps the wilting process)
-Saute until just wilted. You don't want to wilt it too much that the spinach loses its green color.

3) Whole Wheat Israeli Couscous with Balsamic Sauteed Vegetables
**I was excited to find Gefen (100%) Whole Wheat Israeli Couscous, but to my dismay, when I cooked it, kind of tasted like Matzah Meal!!! Since I didn't feel like having an 8th day of Pesach flashback for dinner, I decided to do whatever I could to mask that matzah-y flavor! 

-Saute 1 small onion & 1 clove of garlic in a tbsp. olive oil. Transfer to a glass bowl, and add 1.5 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar and set aside.
-In the same pan, saute 1 chopped zucchini & a handful of chopped eggplant
-Add everything to the couscous & toss all together
-Add 1 tbsp. fresh chopped dill
-Salt & pepper to taste
-Let sit for at least 20 minutes before serving (refrigerate, or not)

Like any kind of pasta, Israeli couscous on its own is, well, BORING!!! If you don't have a lot of time, tossing the cooked couscous with a little bit of Earth Balance, salt & pepper, and dried parsley for some green color can liven it up just enough to accompany any fish or meat dish, in no time. Or, use your imagination & add practically whatever vegetable you have on hand, sauteed or not, frozen or fresh. It's extremely versatile & can be prepared in no time at all. Just remember to take the extra few minutes to toast it beforehand! 


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