Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trying Something New: Israeli Couscous With Olives and Roasted Tomatoes

I don’t know about you but I cook a whole lot, pretty much all the time, yet sometimes feel like I’m always making the same stuff (especially weeknights). There are so many options, so many avenues out there that even if you cook every day, you’ll never run out of options. But searching for new ideas, new recipes, takes a whole lot of dedication, a great strive to plunge into new food adventures, and infinite patience and time. Which is not what I always have… Still, once in a while, I choose to plunge and try something new. I don’t usually like to follow recipes so this can be a frustrating process. How can you cook something without a recipe if you’ve never made it before? You have to get inspired somewhere…
Last night was one of those nights. I have recently bought a pack of Israeli Couscous, attracted by the huge colored pearls (the ones I bought are tricolore!). So I searched the web, looking for some inspiration on how to cook it and make a nice side dish out of it. Luckily, there are a few interesting recipes out there. I picked one for which I pretty much had all of the ingredients… and plunged. I did modify a few things and made it my own.

Just so you know, there’s a common misconception that couscous is a whole grain when in fact, it’s closer to pasta than anything else and is made of semolina flour. The texture and taste really reminds me of pasta. So don’t be surprised if I tell you that it’s not filled with nutrients and fiber. It’s not! If you’d rather get a whole grain and get the good stuff, you can use bulgur, barley or even quinoa with the same recipe. But if you don’t mind the pasta, try this. It’s good and perfect as an accompaniment. I served my dish along with cod and garlic spinach. It was absolutely delicious!

Makes 6 servings

Roasted tomatoes
3 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
5 garlic large garlic cloves, left unpeeled
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup warm water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Salt & pepper

2 ½ cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups pearls couscous (Israeli)
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1-2 tbsp sambal oelek (optional, if you like it spicy!)

Tomatoes and dressing
Preheat your oven at 250˚F.

Cut the tomatoes in half and arrange, cut side up, in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan. Add garlic to pan and roast in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour. Let cool for about 30 minutes

Peel the garlic and puree with the oil, water, lemon juice, salt & pepper and ½ cup roasted tomatoes in a small food processor or blender until the dressing is very smooth.

In a heavy saucepan, bring the broth to a broil and stir in the couscous. Let simmer, uncovered, for 6 minutes. Cover pan and remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Transfer the couscous to a bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients, dressing, roasted tomatoes and salt & pepper to taste.

Notes: You can roast your tomatoes and make your dressing a day ahead if you keep them separately covered and chilled.

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