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.
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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