Sep 16 2010

The Other Couscous

Published by at 7:43 am under Dinner,Lunch

I know I just wrote about how easy it is to take instant couscous camping, but the truth is that my heart belongs to the big, pearl, Middle Eastern couscous over the smaller African variety. I know I’m not alone. The larger grains are softer and chewier than their cousins, more like a satisfying pasta than millet or quinoa.

Cooking them, however, isn’t exactly intuitive. I’ve been trying to figure out where to buy them in San Francisco for almost a year (literally) before I discovered the bulk foods oasis at the Whole Foods on 4th St. in SoMa. I enthusiastically poured several very large scoops into my plastic bag — after all, they’ll keep pretty much forever!

The first experiment was a complete disaster. I boiled the couscous in some water, roasted some veggies, and mixed it all together, but the result was a congealed, unappetizing couscous brick. Here’s the trick: You MUST rinse the couscous after you boil it. This may be obvious to most of you, but I’ve read about how Mario Batali is horrified at the idea of rinsing pasta, and I figured the post-boil rinse was an absolute no-no.

Not so. A quick rinse separates each of the grains so you end up with the lovely loose beads instead of a sticky mess.

For the mix-ins this time, I was inspired by a Barefoot Contessa salad my assistant’s stepmother made over the weekend. It’s a fall dish with butternut squash and dried cranberries, but I tweaked it so I could use some farmer’s market finds: sweet potato and dried sour cherries. It’s safe to say I’m a sweet potato addict, and I’ve stopped fighting it.

Ina Garten’s salad is flavored with seasonal goodies like maple syrup and apple cider, but since the potatoes and cherries were already so sweet, I just drizzled a reduced balsamic syrup on top for some extra flavor.

I need a couple more months before I start buying pumpkin and allspice, but I can already feel the urge coming on.

Middle Eastern Couscous with Sweet Potatoes and Sour Cherries

Ingredients (Serves 4):

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes

2 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups Middle Eastern couscous

4 cups water

2/3 cup dried sour cherries

1 cup packed arugula

2 tbsp. reduced balsamic vinegar

4 oz. goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat potato cubes with oil, salt and pepper to taste, and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes until the potatoes begin to brown. (Note: You could also boil the potatoes for this recipe, then cube them. I just like the nutty taste of roasted ones.)

Melt butter in medium pot, and add couscous. Stir to coat grains well, then add water. Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed. Transfer couscous to a colander and rinse well with lukewarm water, tossing to distribute the water.

Pour couscous back into the pot, and stir in potatoes, cherries and arugula. Drizzle with balsamic, and top with goat cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*If you don’t have any syrup-y balsamic on hand, try this: Pour 1/2 cup regular balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and let it cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until much of the liquid has reduced and the resulting vinegar is thicker and sweeter.

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