Saturday, December 1, 2012

Couscous Sweet and Tart



I am so used to thinking of couscous as a grain that I forget it is really a pasta, a coarsely ground pasta made from semolina wheat. Pasta is made from ground wheat, couscous is made from crushed; a big difference in the foodie world (link) and (link). No matter in my galley, this versatile item is readily available, easy to store, quick to cook and has a neutral flavor that mixes well with a wide variety of herbs, seasonings, fruits and nuts. Grain or pasta, couscous is a winner.

The quick-to-cook feature came in handy when I had to expand the menu in a hurry to accommodate some extra guests. Here's the drill. Boil water or broth in a saucepan, stir in a bit of olive oil, a handful of chopped dried fruit and the couscous. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and let it stand, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork to break up any lumps and add a few seasonings, chopped fresh herbs, green onions and pine nuts as desired. Toss with a simple vinaigrette of seasoned rice wine vinegar and olive oil and presto! 3 or 4 steps and you're done. This colorful pasta/grain salad is a feast for the eyes and a treat to the taste. While it may never be the star of a meal, it an award-worthy supporting player.

Served warm this might be a side dish for dinner, or add some sliced cooked chicken or shrimp and it's an entree. At room temperature or slightly chilled we enjoy it as a salad or even as a small-bite appetizer. RL loves this couscous preparation at breakfast, heated with some coconut cream and a scattering of coconut shreds. How's that for a versatile recipe?


Couscous Sweet and Tart
Serves 3-4

1 1/2 cup water (or low-sodium broth)

1 teaspoon olive oil or butter
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 generous, rounded cup couscous
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
1/4 cup green Spring onions,white and green sections thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil or flat leaf (Italian) parsley, coarsely torn
2 tablespoons mint leaves, coarsely torn
1/4 cup pine nuts (or toasted slivered almonds)
2+ tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar 
4+ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

  1. Bring the water (or broth) and olive oil to a boil in a medium saucepan; stir in the cranberries, apricots and couscous.
  2. Cover tightly and remove the pan from the heat; let stand until the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
  3. Fluff couscous lightly with a fork to break up any lumps. Add salt and pepper if using, green onions, basil, mint and pine nuts; toss to mix.
  4. Sprinkle with almost all of the rice wine vinegar/olive oil and the tablespoon of lemon zest; toss to mix.
  5. Drizzle any remaining olive oil/rice wine vinegar mix on top and serve immediately... 
  6. ...OR spread evenly on a baking sheet to cool, about 10 minutes.
Notes: 
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.
Use chilled, heated or at room temperature. 
Add extra dressing and seasonings as needed.


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