Friday, July 10, 2009

Israeli Couscous Salad: A Narrative

Picture it: Sicily, 1924 Brooklyn, 2009. Friends are converging on our backyard in less than an hour for a Sunday night cookout. In my kitchen are a lone cucumber, four pounds of peppers, a few near-deceased scallions, a tomato bigger than my head, a handful of on-its-way-out parsley, and a cup-and-a-half of dry Israeli couscous, purchased on a whim during my inaugural visit to the Fairway in Red Hook. (Which? Whee!)

I don’t know about you guys, but that screams Some Kind of Salad to me.

Here’s the thing, though – I’ve never used Israeli couscous before, and have no idea how to prepare it. So, I do some quick research, which reveals the following:

  • It’s a pasta, not a grain.
  • It can cook like a pasta OR a grain.
  • It doesn’t get much bigger after it’s cooked.
  • It does, in fact, hail from the land of the Israelites.
  • It’s also called p’titim, which is funny after you stare at it for a while.
Armed with my new cache of knowledge, I take to the stove, where I immediately discover this:
  • Uncooked, Israeli couscous is somewhat prone to static electricity when poured from a plastic bag, meaning several little nodules can/will end up covering your kitchen floor like so many ball bearings.
  • It cooks way fast.
Once the tile is swept and the couscous is sufficiently moist, I begin a-choppin’, which quickly progresses to a-stirrin’, and finally ends up with a-drenchin’, a-limin’, and a-salt-n-pepperin’. Thirty minutes later, I have a somewhat original, definitely delicious pasta salad that began with a few spare parts, a bad Golden Girls reference, and a dream.

And you know what? My guests are sated, my Sunday night is heavenly, and I write about it later that week on a cooking blog. Perhaps it’s the best couscous salad ever? Time will tell.

Happy weekend, everybody!

P.S. You could probably cut the dressing by a third and still be fine, taste-wise. Just sayin’.

Israeli Couscous Salad
Makes 8 side servings
Created by moi.

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water (plus more if needed)
1-1/2 cups uncooked Israeli couscous
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
3 large scallions, chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ large lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1) Bring stock and water to a boil. Add couscous, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook for 6-10 minutes, or until couscous is al dente. Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking process.

2) In a large bowl, whisk olive oil and vinegar together to make a dressing. Add couscous, cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, scallions, and parsley. Stir to coat with dressing. Squeeze lime over everything, and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir again.

3) Serve cold or at room temperature. Will stay a few days in the fridge, most likely.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
222 calories, 7.4 g fat, $0.82

1 cup chicken broth: 10 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.38
1 cup water (plus more if needed): negligible calories and fat, $0.00
1-1/2 cups uncooked Israeli couscous: 1140 calories, 3 g fat, $1.61
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil: 477 calories, 54 g fat, $0.52
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $0.16
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped: 34 calories, 0.6 g fat, $0.66
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped: 33 calories, 0.4 g fat, $1.17
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped: 50 calories, 0.4 g fat, $1.12
3 large scallions, chopped: 24 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.33
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped: 5 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.45
½ large lime: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.03
TOTAL: 1778 calories, 59.2 g fat, $6.53
PER SERVING (TOTAL/8): 222 calories, 7.4 g fat, $0.82

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