Fully Loaded Israeli Couscous Salad
What is Israeli Couscous?
Israeli couscous goes by many names: Pearl Couscous, Jerusalem couscous, Ben Gurion rice and ptitim. This tiny spherical pasta is made from semolina and wheat flour and is prepared by cooking it in liquid. Israeli couscous was developed by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in the 1950's to provide an alternative to rice and to address food shortages after the War of Independence. Regular couscous originated in North Africa and is made from crushed durum semolina that is steamed and fluffed. North African couscous is smaller and flatter than Israeli couscous. Fregula Sarda, the tiny toasted pasta of Sardinia, is actually closer in taste and composition to Israeli couscous than North African Couscous.
Basic Preparation of Israeli Couscous
The good news is Israeli couscous is drop-dead simple to make. It is toasted in a pan until it begins to develop a little color (2 - 5 minutes). A liquid such as water, chicken stock or even milk is added. You bring the pasta to a boil, reduce the temperature and simmer for 10 minutes and it is done. It could not be easier. Once the couscous is cooked the fun begins and you decide what to add to your couscous.
Think of Israeli Couscous as a Blank CanvasThe possibilities with Israeli couscous are endless. A variety of vegetables, herbs, fruit, spices, nuts, meat or poultry can be added. You will want to add a dressing also. I personally like to add a citrus, mustard, vinegar and olive oil dressing to my couscous.
This Fully Loaded Israeli Couscous SaladThis particular couscous recipe is a celebration of flavors. I add toasted pistachios and almonds, pomegranate seeds, golden raisins, barberries, mint, basil, dill and either baby spinach or arugula. It is a masterpiece of the adage "eat your colors." The pomegranate seeds give it a delicious pop and the barberries provide a sour counterpart. Barberries are a tart, tiny, red dried fruit that is used frequently in Persian cooking. They can be purchased in Middle Eastern grocery stores or on Amazon. Barberries need to be soaked for about 10 minutes to reconstitute them. You can make this Israeli couscous without the barberries, but they do add interest and flavor.
Note: SNFD is an Amazon affiliate and we may make a small commission when you purchase through our links.Quantities of the add-in ingredients in this recipe are suggestions. Feel free to increase or decrease quantities based on your preferences. After you make this salad once, you will think of it as a "no-recipe" recipe because it lends itself to improvisation. Yes, I am saying it is basically foolproof!
Where to Buy Israeli Couscous?
You can buy Israeli couscous at Middle Eastern grocery stores, on Amazon or even at Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's sells 8 ounce boxes of Israeli couscous, which for me would be the minimum I would ever make even if cooking for just one person. Why? It keeps well in the fridge for days and I think it gets even better as flavors meld. So make a bunch and eat the leftovers for lunch. You won't regret it.
What to Serve this Israeli Couscous Salad WithThis Israeli couscous salad goes well with lamb, chicken or beef, as well as stands on its own as a vegetarian or vegan dish. I particularly like to serve it with Slow-Braised Pomegranate Lamb Shanks. The two dishes make for a gorgeous, beautiful and complete meal. Combined, these dishes make for a romantic dinner for two or can be expanded to serve 4, 6, 12 or even 20 guests.
Fully Loaded Israeli Couscous Salad
Yield 4 - 6 servings
This fully loaded Israeli couscous salad is bursting with fruit, nuts, herbs and vegetables. It is every bit as delicious as it is healthy.
- 2 cups Israeli couscous (Also called pearl couscous)
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth (Also can be made with water)
- 3/4 cup dried barberries
- 3/4 cup toasted pistachios
- 3/4 cup toasted almond slices
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- 3/4 cups golden raisins
- Zest from one lemon
- Handful or fresh mint, torn or chopped
- Handful of fresh basil torn or chopped
- Handful of fresh dill, torn or chopped
- 3 ounces baby spinach or arugula
- 2 T minced shallots
- 2 T lemon juice
- 1 t whole grain mustard
- 1 t honey
- 6 T good quality extra virgin olive oil (use your good stuff!)
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
For the couscous:
- Heat a non-stick pot that is big enough to hold the couscous and the chicken stock. Add the couscous and toast until most of the grains are golden brown, stirring frequently. This will take 2 - 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and the couscous is cooked through and has a nice chewy texture. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Return the lid and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
- Put barberries in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Allow to rehydrate for 10 minutes, drain into a mesh strainer and push on the fruit with the back of a spoon to squeeze out the excess moisture.
- Put the cooked couscous in a bowl and add the barberries, nuts, fruit, lemon zest and herbs. You can either add the spinach or arugula at this point, mixing it in with the salad, or reserve it as a bed to serve the couscous on. Add the dressing, toss and serve.
For the dressing:
- Put shallots, lemon juice, mustard and honey in a small bowl. Whisk together. Gradually whisk in the olive oil to create an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper, taste and adjust if needed.
Cuisine Middle Eastern