giant couscous salad
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Giant or Israeli couscous – also known as pearl couscous or ptitim – is really pasta. It was recently the cause of The Weather Man’s epiphany and revelation, not entirely of a positive flavour. He had been convinced, poor dude, that couscous was grain: wholesome, natural, unprocessed, rolling fields of couscous swaying in the gentle wind somewhere in the Middle East. I bet he wasn’t isolated in the belief.
Couscous is not a plant: it’s processed grain, whacked to shape of tiny or slightly bigger crumbs/lumps. Weirdly, it’s still pretty wholesome and good for us to eat – there are even couscous-based weight-loss programmes. My secret suspicion is that it’s because it SO gets everywhere when you’re cooking it, only very little ends up on our plates.
Israeli couscous is pretend rice – exiled Jews in Europe had no ready supplies of rice available so they jostled the durum wheat grains to shape approximating rice grains. Needs must, as always – and Jewish communities had to be naturally more resourceful than others; hence we’re thankful to them for pastrami and bagels, less so for gefilte fish.
It really is just the most fantastic canvas for a salad – throw anything in, season heavily and it will go down a treat. This features roasted red peppers, and however kosher (ha!) it may be to grab a jar of Spanish piquillos, it’s rather fun to grill a bunch of peppers black and peel them satisfyingly when sweated; beats picking a scab anytime.
giant couscous saladServings: 2-3Time: about 1 hour
- For the dressing:
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 lemon, juice only
- For the couscous salad:
- 2 large red bell peppers (or ½ jar of roasted red peppers, drained and roughly chopped)
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 120g (4oz.) whole-wheat Israeli (giant) couscous
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 40g (¼ cup) sultanas or raisins
- 100g (3oz.) lettuce leaves, shredded
- 200g (6oz.) cherry tomatoes, halved
- 100g (3oz.) cucumber, diced
- ½ bunch flat parsley, finely chopped
- ½ bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
- ½ bunch fresh mint, leaves stripped and finely chopped
- 80g (2 ½ oz.) feta cheese, crumbled or diced
- 30g (1oz.) almond flakes, toasted
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you’re going to make your own roasted peppers, preheat the grill to its highest setting. Prepare a plastic bag large enough to fit the peppers.
Place the peppers on a roasting tray lined with foil. Place them as high as possible under the grill and roast for about 5 minutes on each side, turning with tongs, until the skin is charred and blistered all over. Remove them from the grill and put in the plastic bag to sweat, for 30 minutes.
In the meantime prepare the dressing: crush the garlic with the salt in pestle and mortar. Transfer to a bowl (unless your mortar is very large), add the other ingredients and whisk into emulsion.
Take the peppers out of the bag onto a wooden board. Remove the core and seeds, and peel the skin off; it’s a very messy job. Cut the skinned peppers into large strips and place in a large mixing bowl.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the couscous and toast, stirring for 5 minutes. Add the sultanas, salt and pour in a cup of water. Bring to the boil, turn the heat to low and simmer covered for about 10 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
Meanwhile add the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and herbs to the bowl with the peppers. When the couscous is cooked, add it to the bowl. Pour in the dressing and mix well.
Add the feta and almond flakes and toss gently with the salad – adding them at the last minute keep them from discolouring too much from the dressing but it doesn’t affect the taste. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary, and some black pepper.