Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Israeli Couscous Salad

The traditional tiny couscous as we usually recognize it isn't really my favorite. It's fine to have a dollop on the side of your plate but it's mealy, sand-like texture wears thin on me after a while.

Different is "Israeli Couscous". Also known as maftoul or pearl couscous, it - like regular couscous - is a small pasta. However, the process of being lightly toasted, lends it a pleasing, nutty flavour.

Like any pasta salad, you can do anything you like with it. I like to dress mine simply with a lemon/mustard vinaigrette and toss with finely chopped raw vegetables. For some reason, I've found this is a dish you can sneak cilantro into and people who might normally balk at this most divisive of herbs immediately go "what is that", searching for the source of their delight.

My being always late to the party, this is a summertime picnic/pot-luck trick to stick up your sleeve, one that always generates a bit of talk without getting too demanding on the cook.

I recently made a batch for a Sunday afternoon potluck where the hosts grilled up some delicious salmon and chicken. I won't give a recipe - it's so versatile you really can't go wrong. Except to say, I diced as finely as my patience would allow some peppers of different colours, some carrots, and some red onions, and then tossed in some parsley. I then made a Dijon mustard vinaigrette spiked with fresh lemon juice and tossed it up. This is a basic as you can get folks. Try it with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and olives with a oregano-lemon vinaigrette. Cook the couscous in red wine and beet juice and you'll have these gorgeous, ruby red pearls just waiting to be tossed with a pungent white cheese and some beautiful green herbs - looks amazing on a plate. You can toss the couscous in green pesto and serve at room temperature with some grilled vegetables on top. Anyway you do it, just make sure that you don't overcook the couscous and ALWAYS make extra - your guests will want to take some home and it goes great in a packed lunch the next day.

You won't find Israeli Couscous at every market but here in the Hamilton area, I find it fairly readily at the Denninger's chain and our local health food stores (Goodness Me). Just poke around, it's not that hard to find, although it can be expensive relative to regular pasta. I guarantee no-one else at your next potluck will have ever experienced it and for such a simple dish it can really get people talking about food, at which point you can begin to knowledgeably extol the virtues of fried sweetbreads and pickled kangaroo penis. Enjoy!



This will be a nice change to our previous couscous salad post. I can't wait to try it.

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