Couscous & Vinaigrette

October 7, 2009

A pantry staple, Israeli couscous is a small, round semolina pasta that should not be confused with the tiny, light yellow tinted North African couscous. After being shaped and rolled into small balls, these semolina granules are toasted in an oven, lending a distinctive nutty and buttery flavor and a pleasing firm yet gentle texture—little bursts in the mouth. The labor intensive sieving and toasting process also seals in the starches and reinforces the exterior, allowing these minute globules to absorb liquid without falling apart.

Israeli couscous serves as a light and fluffy standby carb to round out a meal and can also be the base for a luscious salad that can be customized in a myriad of ways. Season versatile. I have become fixated on these little pearls.

ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD

1 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 C zucchini, cubed, using only the outside skinned area
1/2 C red onion, diced, rinsed and dried
Fresh thyme leaves, minced

2-3 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
2 C cherry tomatoes, halved

2 C Israeli couscous
1 1/2 C water
1 C chicken stock

3-4 T mint leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, mustard and honey, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuously whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

In a large heavy sauté pan, heat the olive oil, and add red onion, thyme and then the zucchini and sauté until cooked, yet al dente. Add the sweet corn and cherry tomatoes and cook more, but just briefly.

Bring water and stock to a lively boil in heavy pot. Add couscous and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes, then drain. Allow the couscous to cool and then toss with the vinaigrette, and finally the zucchini, red onion, corn, tomatoes and mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This salad tends to be even more flavorful after it sits for awhile in the frig.

Pourboire: Rincing the minced raw onions removes the pungent, sometimes overpowering, flavor. When onions are chopped, sulfurous compounds are released from the cell walls. Cold rinsing this sulfur away results in a more mellow product. Also, as always, the base vinaigrette can be varied to suit your tastes.

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