ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD

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….

ENJOY!

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ZUCCHINI AND PINE NUTS

From one of the latest issues of Food and Wine magazine, this recipe was the only bright spot on a day in which everything that could go wrong (in the lab) went wrong.  But, as we were driving through intense Los Angeles traffic that Thursday, I knew that getting home and making dinner would improve my mood.  It always does, actually.  Especially if I already have it all planned and laid out in my mind, which was the case that day.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ZUCCHINI AND PINE NUTS
(adapted from Food and Wine, May 2011)

1 cup diced zucchini
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

1 cup couscous
1 cup boiling water

3/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup water
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
fresh mint and parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet and sautee the zucchini until golden.  Season lightly with salt and pepper. You can prepare it in advance and keep it in the fridge.

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the couscous in the bowl you intend to serve the salad. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes as you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Boil the peas for 2 minutes, drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the water.  Add the lemon juice and olive oil, a little salt, to the reserved pea water, and whisk well.  Fluff the couscous with a fork, pour this dressing over it, mixing it well.  Gently mix in the cooked peas, reserved zucchini, toasted pine nuts, and fresh herbs.  Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Next time, I will dice the zucchini in slightly larger pieces, because I’d like their presence in the salad to be a little more obvious, not only visually, but also in texture.   I love the popcorn-y taste of pine nuts, but you can use almonds (as in the original Food and Wine version), or walnuts.  Make sure to toast them first.

It is crucial to let the zucchini get some color, so I like to leave it undisturbed in the sautee pan for a couple of minutes, before moving the pieces around.

This could be a nice vegetarian entree, as couscous is very filling, but we enjoyed it next to a juicy, grilled chicken breast.    And that was a perfect antidote for  the “lab-blues.”  😉

ONE YEAR AGO:  A Simple Salad a la Jacques Pepin

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

A SPECIAL DINNER FOR TWO…

Sometimes (more often than I care to admit…)  I buy things on impulse, without knowing exactly what to do with them. Last week I saw a New Zealand rack of lamb, and couldn’t resist it. I hid the package in the fridge, hoping to surprise my beloved with a special meal. I think his top three favorite dishes are Beef Wellington, rack of lamb, and grilled salmon….sushi and oysters on the halfshell are also strong contenders…  At any rate, I knew the lamb would be well received!

Normally I’d simplify the preparation of a rack of lamb: salt and pepper, and nothing else. The meat is so flavorful, it shines on its own.   However, a recipe in Ming Tsai’s book (Ming’s Master Recipes) changed my mind, as it had “Autumn” and “Romance” written all over it… 😉

rack1

CRANBERRY-TERIYAKI LAMB RACK  with COUSCOUS SALAD
(adapted from Ming Tsai’s Master Recipes)

2 lamb racks
1 cup cranberry-teriyaki glaze (recipe below)
1 cup couscous, cooked
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 T Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
3 scallions stalks, sliced (reserve green part for garnishing)
1/4 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Marinate the racks of lamb in the glaze for a couple of hours or overnight.   Prepare a hot grill, remove lamb from the marinade and grill it to medium-rare.  For our small racks of lamb, I grilled for 12 minutes, turning them halfway through.  Allow the meat to rest for 5  minutes before slicing it between the bones.

Prepare the couscous salad…
Cook the couscous as instructed in the package, and reserve.  In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, zest, and mustard. Slowly add the oil, still whisking, to form an emulsion, and season it with salt and pepper. Add the white part of the scallions, the cranberries and the cooked couscous, tossing well to combine.

To serve, place the couscous on a plate, top it with the lamb chops, garnish with scallion greens, and spoon some extra cranberry glaze on top of the lamb.


CRANBERRY-TERIYAKI GLAZE
1/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4  cup sugar
zest and juice of 1 orange
salt to taste

In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the dried cranberries, shallot slices and ginger and cook over high heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cranberry juice, soy sauce, sugar, orange zest and juice and simmer over low heat until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Let it cool slightly and then transfer it to a blender.

Blend the sauce, adding the remaining olive oil with the machine running.  Do not blend it until it is completely smooth, the sauce is supposed to contain little bits of cranberries.  Taste and adjust seasoning; it keeps for 1 week refrigerated.

couscoussalad2Couscous salad, a perfect match for the lamb…

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here.

jump for additional comments