For a long time Israeli couscous was hard to find, and I only enjoyed it in restaurants, or by placing special orders online. Now it’s available almost everywhere! Even one store in our small town carries it in bulk, so I buy as little or as much as I want. Heads up: when you buy Israeli couscous in bulk, make sure to tie the plastic bag very well, and handle it with loving care. Those cute little balls of semolina flour travel long distances when spilled on the floor. It’s amazing the lessons a cook learns! 😉
Israeli couscous has an interesting history. It indeed originated in Israel, in the 50’s, with the name of “ptitim.” It was conceived in a time of austerity, as an attempt to deal with the scarcity of food, including the almost complete disappearance of rice. Back in Israel it remains a popular food item for kids, available in all sorts of cute shapes, like stars and hearts, to please the young audience. Abroad, Israeli couscous became a trendy gourmet ingredient, as we all know well. It’s versatile and has less tendency to form lumps than regular couscous. It can be dressed up in countless ways and it’s equally tasty warm or cold, as in this delicious salad, adapted from a recent issue of Food and Wine.
ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ARUGULA PESTO
(adapted from Food and Wine magazine)
6 cups packed arugula (6 ounces)
2 cups Israeli couscous (12 ounces)
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup full fat yoghurt (or low fat if you prefer)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup red cherry tomatoes, halved
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the 6 cups of arugula and blanch for 10 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer the arugula to a colander. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, drain well and reserve.
Add the couscous to the boiling water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste to make sure you don’t overcook it. Drain, and spread on a large baking sheet, drizzling with a very small amount of olive oil (use a spray bottle if you have it) to prevent the little balls from sticking. Let it cool to room temperature.
In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, tossing, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Let cool.
Squeeze the excess water from the arugula, coarsely chop it, and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Transfer the arugula to a food processor. Add the pine nuts, garlic, cheese and the 2 Tbs of olive oil, processing until the arugula and pine nuts are chopped. Immediately add the yogurt, process until smooth, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the couscous to a large serving bowl and stir in some of the pesto, using as much or as little as you like. Gently fold in the tomatoes and cucumber pieces. Adjust seasoning, and….
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: We loved this recipe! And I’m especially happy about my modifications of the arugula pesto. Purists may roll their eyes, but I reduced the fat content of this baby to levels previously unknown to mankind! Imagine my audacity, going from 1/2 cup of olive oil in the original recipe to 2 Tbs olive oil + 1/3 cup of yogurt! That, my friends, is a drop from 954 calories down to 175. I am not a fat-o-phobe, but I’ve played with yogurt and buttermilk long enough to learn that they often substitute well for oil, as illustrated in this example: the acidity in the yogurt kept the arugula bright and it added an interesting sharpness to the pesto. Of course, you may also ignore my adaptation and use the full amount of olive oil. As Emeril Lagasse says, “…you won’t hurt my feelings.” 😉
Olive oil is one of the healthiest options among fats, but any fat packs a huge load of calories. If you struggle with weight issues (who doesn’t?), then be attentive to the amount of olive oil in your recipes and restaurant foods. Salads are deceptively high in calories. Consider asking for dressing on the side, and use it sparingly. Another dangerous option that seems healthy and light: buffet platters of grilled veggies, such as eggplant and zucchini. They are prepared with a substantial amount of olive oil, and eggplant in particular soaks it up like a sponge. Be aware, make the right choices, and exercise portion control. When you’re cooking at home try my low-cal pesto and see what you think. It’s good to splurge with the real thing sometimes, but it’s also wonderful to find an alternative that makes you feel good when you leave the table. 😉
ONE YEAR AGO: Heavenly Home-made Fromage Blanc
TWO YEARS AGO: Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce