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Monday, December 8, 2008

Couscous Steps Up to the Plate as a Main Course

Traditional couscous has a home in the flavorful cuisines of North Africa. Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and Libya have perfected a small grained, steamed couscous that contrasts well with their spicy sauces. Preparing authentic couscous requires a steamer and considerable patience. The result, while delicious, is too time-consuming for most people.

Instant couscous is now widely available, made with either white or whole wheat flour. Requiring only 10 minutes in a hot water bath, this small grained version is perfect for a grilled vegetable couscous salad.

There is also a larger pearl-sized, "Israeli" couscous, which is prepared in a manner similar to risotto. The grains are first lightly toasted in olive oil, then a liquid is added. The grains soak up the liquid as they cook and expand 2-3 times their original size. With the addition of vegetables or meat, this version can easily be a main course.

Couscous with Vegetables

Aesthetically I like to keep all the ingredients about the same size as the cooked couscous grains. Because couscous is a pasta, it will continue to absorb all the liquid it's given, so the couscous should be served as soon as it is cooked. Don't put in too much liquid or you risk overloading the grains and making them mushy.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup Israeli couscous
1 medium yellow onion, washed, peeled, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, washed, trimmed, finely chopped
4 brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, finely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped, leaves and stems
1/2 cup corn kernels
2-3 cups liquid, water
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Over a medium flame, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. Add the couscous and lightly brown. Remove from the pan.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper, and saute the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, corn, and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add the butter and put back the toasted couscous, stir well, pour in 2 cups of water.

Heat uncovered for 5-10 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Taste a couscous grain. If it needs more liquid, add a cup of water, stir, and continue to simmer another 5 minutes. Taste and add more sea salt and pepper as needed.

Serve immediately.

Variations

Add 1 cup chopped spinach leaves, no stems, when you add the liquid.

Add finely chopped broccoli or squash or red peppers or tomatoes to the vegetable saute.

Use meat stock (chicken, beef, or veal) instead of water.

Add finely chopped chicken meat or sausage to the vegetable saute.

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